Brazilian have been using electronic voting machines for 15 years. The process has been streamlined and improved over the years. The system is centralized in the Federal Electoral Court (Tribunal Superior Eleitoral – TSE), which makes the hardware and the software, designs the security architecture, as well as controlling the voting and tallying election results.
So, for example, this past Sunday, in the runoff elections, a total of 400,000 voting machines were used. 1,609 of them presented problems or 0.402% of them. Most of the equipment was simply substituted; it was reported that in three precincts it was necessary for votes to be marked on paper ballots.
Meanwhile, a total of 1.1 million voters participated in a pilot program testing biometric voting machines that recognize voters by their fingerprints.
“We had a few problems. In the first round vote, the machines recognized 97% of the voters. It turns out that some of the voters work with chemicals that cause a loss of fingerprints. And there were some precinct workers who did not know how to handle problems. We also had some long lines,” explained Lewandowski.
The biometric system is being studied by the Ministry of Justice. The TSE could give them access to its files of 136 million Brazilians if it is decided to eventually unify the country’s civil identification system – a person would have one number for all documents, such as passports, ID cards and social security.
The TSE says it plans to have 155 million Brazilians voting on biometric machines by the year 2018. The cost of implanting the new system will be 3 reais (US$ 1.76) per voter.
Speaking of cost per voter, the TSE says that the complete election cycle this year cost 489 million reais (US$ 287.5 million) around 3.60 reais (US$ 2.1) per voter.
“That is a relatively low cost for a democracy to be operational at the level of efficiency we have,” declared Lewandowski, adding that the final cost was over 10% less than initial cost estimates, which ran to around 550 million reais (US$ 323.34 million).
With regard to the controversial Clean Criminal law (“Ficha Limpa”) which makes politicians with convictions ineligible to run for office, the president of the TSE declared that it had created isolated, localized problems.
“Even so, we went through this election cycle with a relatively high degree of certainty,” said Lewandowski.
When he was asked when Brazil will get final election results Lewandowski pointed out that final results no longer depend on the TSE but rather the Supreme Court (STF).
“The TSE has already passed judgment. Now it is up to the Supreme Court.” Lewandowski admitted that around 30% of the Ficha Limpa cases remain unresolved.
“With the election over, the courts will examine those cases with all the safeguards of due process.” Because of Brazil’s electoral system for the Chamber of Deputies (and state legislative assemblies), results can be heavily skewed by politicians with long coattails.
For example, Paulo Maluf (from São Paulo state’s PP party) got over 500,000. votes and if he is allowed to take his seat he will drag two more deputies in with him. If he is ruled ineligible, three other politicians will go to Brasilia.
Last night’s results were available at a record speed. At 8:04 pm the TSE knew that Dilma Rousseff had been elected president with slightly more than 55% of the votes. In 2002, the result was known at 11 pm.
In 2006, the result was clear only at 9:30 pm. Polling places close at 5 pm in Brazil, but as there are different time zones the TSE, located in Brazilian capital Brasília, does not release results before the last polling places close two hours after Brasília.
Lewandowski concluded his remarks on the election by pointing out that anyone who saw the election on TV could see that Brazilians went to the polls with a smile on their faces. “No matter how bitter the campaign,” he said. Finally, Lewandowski said that the media deserved special praise. “Without a free press there is no democracy,” he said.