Electronic voting in Brazil

  • Wikimedia Foundation Inc (2006): Electronic voting. [online]. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_voting . Accessed on 22/01/2009
  • C Avgerou, A Ganzaroli, A Poulymenakou, N Reinhard (2007). Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Social Implications of Computers in Developing Countries: ICT and citizens' trust in government: lessons from electronic voting in Brazil. [online]. Available from: http://www.ifipwg94.org.br/fullpapers/R0098-1.pdf Accessed on 22/01/2009

The electronic voting system of Brazil is widely trusted by the citizens of the country and international observers as an efficient and reliable mechanism of producing elections results that accurately represent the choices of the electorate. In a country with population of over 110 million and voters spread over 3200 electoral constituencies, Brazil had the daunting task of ensuring the integrity of the federal, state and municipal election. In the 2004 municipal elections 99% of the votes (more than 100 million votes) were counted within five hours from the closing of the voting stations. Their aim was to implement an information technology platform that could provide a method for every electorate to vote irrespective of their literacy level, health status and location. Moreover, such a system would be obliged to defend against fraud and address the conventional problem of slow tabulation and result announcement.

Machine Requirements

An e-voting platform encompassing hardware, software and systems integration was implemented. It essentially provided electorate electronic ballot boxes to securely and accurately cast their votes. The voting machine has a very simple interface, comprising an unambiguous presentation of voting options, confirmation and cancellation procedures, pictures of candidates and Braille coding on the buttons to secure universal access including illiterate and blind people.

The voting machine consists of two terminals installed in each polling station. The first is the voting board representatives' terminal and has a numerical keyboard with a two lines liquid crystal screen. It is used by the board representative to type a voter's identification number. If he or she is registered in the precinct, his or her name is displayed on the screen and the identification is accomplished. The board representative checks on the screen the status of the voting machine and, if available, presses 'enter' to turn the machine on the ready state.

The second terminal is the voters' one. When the voter enters the booth, the machine should be on the ready state. The voter terminal is also formed of a keyboard and a liquid crystal display. The voter expresses his/her preference by typing their candidate identification number. The screen shows the candidate's name, initials of the party or coalition he or she belongs to and his or her photo, and if these are correct, voters press enter to confirm. The keyboard has two additional keys: the first is the correction key that allows voters to re-start the process, the second is the blank vote key.

Plan and Design of an E-voting System

At the beginning of 1995, the TSE formed a task force comprising staff from the TSE and the TREs and financed by the World Bank. The objectives of the task force were to stop fraud and to strengthen political participation and inclusion by simplifying the voting system. The existing system required people to read the names of candidates from a list and to write down their names on the ballot paper, but the level of illiteracy in Brazil was very high, close to 30% of the population. Therefore, they perceived a pressing need not only to improve the user friendliness of the interface (the ballot paper), but also the knowledge-base required to participate to the process.

After six months the task force produced a proposal for the development of a computerized ballot box and invited technical experts from Federal ministries to participate in defining the system's technical requirements and specifications. At the beginning of September 1995, a team of fourteen technical specialists started working on the system's development and in May 1996 the first copy of the electronic voting machine was released. The machine was tested for the first time in the Municipal elections of October, 1996. The test included all cities with more than 200,000 voters and all state capitals, which involved 33% of the voters. A second test was run for the general election of 1998. This test included all cities with more than 40,000 voters, reaching 67% of the voters. Finally, the system was used in the whole country for the municipal elections of 2000.


Pros of this system include:

  • Enhanced transparency of the electoral process. The totally electronic form of the votes precludes resorting to the counting of votes recorded on paper in case there is a dispute.
  • Accurate tabulation of votes and prompt knowledge of return.
  • Quicker process of tabulation and announcement of results.
  • Reduces voter error which helps to eliminate spoilt or blank votes.
  • Consistent and verifiable data.
  • Cost effective system.
  • Allow remote election such as in embassies in overseas countries.

Cons of this system include:

Limited parts of source code available to political parties for inspection (the commercial operating systems of some of the machines is a particular cause of concern) and the lack of testing of the systems performance by political parties representatives and other interested

  • individuals.Storing data in floppy disk is a potential risk.
  • Screens used are monochromes which are not suitable for people with weak eyesight.
  • System is not cohesive as different systems are utilised in different regions.
  • The use of numbers to select candidates will be impractical especially if there a lot of numbers to use.

Success Story

The electronic voting system of Brazil has several qualities that make it, and consequently the electronic voting process, trustworthy. The fast and un-crowded voting experience created a relaxed and almost celebratory atmosphere at the voting stations we visited. Many parents took their young children with them to the voting booth to show them how they used the machine. The judges do not now spend time at voting stations overseeing the voting; instead they concentrate their attention to other potential types of electoral fraud, such as political parties influencing the voting choices at the vicinity of the voting stations. Moreover, there are large efficiency benefits in the counting of votes and therefore the speed in announcement of the election results. Indicatively, in the 2004 municipal elections 99% of the votes (more than 100 million votes) were counted within five hours from the closing of the voting stations.

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