Brazil Elections: The shadow of the Brazilian military looms over the voting system | International


An employee of the Superior Electoral Court prepares, this Wednesday in Brasilia, electronic ballot boxes for the elections on October 2.EVARISTO SA (AFP)

When Brazilians go to vote, on October 2, they will not put any envelope in any ballot box. They will not play a single role. For more than 25 years, electronic ballot boxes have been used that make it possible for a country of continental size, with 156 million voters, to complete the count in a few minutes. Until relatively recently, these machines were a source of national pride, but President Jair Bolsonaro has been vigorously questioning them for months, and has made an effort so that the Armed Forces have an unprecedented role in the preparation of these elections.

Until now, the military’s role has been limited to logistics: a lauded job of getting ballot boxes to the farthest corner of the country, including helicopters or speedboats to reach the most remote indigenous village in the Amazon. But in the face of Bolsonaro’s growing attacks on the system, and to try to calm things down, the president of the highest electoral court, which organizes the elections, created a transparency commission made up of various representatives of civil society. He also invited the Armed Forces.

Already involved in the electoral process, something never seen to date, the military, through the Ministry of Defense, have made suggestions to improve the security of the polls, many of them accepted by the court. But that unprecedented relationship has been marked by some noise and mistrust. A few months ago, Defense hurriedly demanded that the court make its questions public, and complained of a lack of attention. Shortly after, the electoral justice removed Colonel Ricardo Sant’ana from the commission, when it was discovered that he spread misinformation and lies about the electronic voting system on his social networks.

With this rarefied climate and with the long shadow of the military as a backdrop, the technicians of the Superior Electoral Court (TSE) make an effort to explain that there will be no parallel recount by the uniformed men, contrary to what some media reported Brazilians in recent days, which has set off alarms even from international observers.

In a telephone conversation, the coordinator of Electoral Technology of the TSE, Rafael Azevedo, is grateful that after years of ignoring the system, the military have taken an interest: “It seems interesting to us, because we made the system to be audited. All suggestions, whether from the Armed Forces or from any other entity, are evaluated carefully, calmly, to verify if they are feasible, ”he says. Many of these proposals were incorporated, such as the use of biometrics in some of the tests that are carried out on the day of the vote to verify that the ballot boxes are working correctly.

The most radical Bolsonarists, spurred on by the president, often claim that the polls are not safe because they are not auditable. “Those who say that are unaware of all the auditing systems we have,” replies the technician. The most obvious of all of them is to pay attention to the ticket that each machine prints at the end of election day, where the votes for each candidate appear. Verifying in detail the 577,000 bulletins that will be printed (one for each ballot box) anyone will be able to contrast the votes with the result that the electoral justice discloses. Also, this year, to make things even easier, they will all be available online.

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Bolsonaro would like each voter to get a paper receipt after voting, a possibility that Congress already rejected before the campaign.

“Technically we were always calm and we continue to be calm. The elections have been planned very well, and we are comfortable with the operating system. On other issues I prefer not to give an opinion”, ditches Azevedo, visibly tired of all the dust formed around a job that until recently went unnoticed.

For many politicians and analysts, Judge Luis Roberto Barroso acted in good faith by inviting the military, but he was naive. He himself seemed to repent months later, pointing to Bolsonaro in a veiled way: “Now they intend to use the Armed Forces to attack. They were cordially invited to participate and are being directed to attack the process and try to discredit it”, he lamented at the end of April.

In July, Bolsonaro summoned 40 ambassadors to his official residence to insist, again without evidence, that the voting system (the same one with which he was elected president and before that deputy on five occasions) is not safe. In repeated interviews he has said that he will only accept the results of the polls “if the elections are fair.” Hardly anyone in Brazil doubts that the conspiracy theories spread by Bolsonaro seek to create fertile ground to contest a defeat, as Donald Trump did in the US. At the moment, all the polls show Lula da Silva as the winner.

Like every year, Brazilians will have to key in five sets of numbers, one for each candidate (president, federal deputy, senator, state deputy and state governor). After the number, the image of the candidate appears on the screen and the voter presses a green button to confirm his choice. The system was thus devised in part to make life easier for the millions of illiterate voters.

Although they are electronic, the ballot boxes work in isolation, they cannot be connected to the Internet, which shields them from remote attacks by hackers, another of the false fears that abound in Bolsonarist circles. The only cable they have is the electricity cable, but if there is a blackout throughout the country, there is no problem either: they have a battery that lasts more than ten hours. When the polling stations close, the data is sent by satellite from every corner of the country to Brasilia, from where the final result is released.

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