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A picture of several pen drives used on electronic voting machines

Electronic Voting Machine series: from storing the votes to publicizing results

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Implemented in a third of Brazil's municipalities in 1996 and nationwide for the 2000 elections, the voting machine is used to record votes and for the calculation of the votes from a polling station. In other words, they collect votes and count them. In previous elections, when voting was made using paper ballots, the polling station would collect the votes cast in the ballot then send the ballot box to the electoral board, where it was upturned and its votes counted. voting machines do both things: they collect votes during the day, and at 5 PM, when voting is closed, they count the votes and issue the report called Voting Machine Bulletin.

When voting is closed in the polling stations, the data contained on the memory cards inside the voting machines are encrypted into an output media (a pen drive) which is sent to a pre-determined location where it is transmitted to the respective polling district or to the area's Regional Electoral Court (TRE). In hard-to-reach areas, such as indigenous villages and riverside communities, the transmission of voting results is done through satellite to the correspondent electoral court or polling district.

After receiving the data, either from the polling districts or directly via satellite, the TREs then start aggregating the votes and publicizing the results. For the 2010 elections, the official result for the election for President of the Republic was announced one hour and four minutes after voting was closed in all Brazilian states.

Find out more below about the procedures that take place after voting is closed on the polling stations:

Counting

After 5 PM, the chairman of the polling station, using a pre-determined password, officially closes the voting and issues the correspondent Voting Machine Bulletin. The Bulletin is a report (printed in five copies by the electronic voting machine) bearing the identification of the polling station, the identification of the voting machine, the number of voters who attended the election and voted and the number of votes per candidate and party in that voting machine, without in any way matching voters and votes cast.

The five (or more) copies of the Bulletin are then signed by the chairman of the polling station and by the political party representatives or inspectors present. The first copy is posted in a conspicuous place in the polling station, publicizing the results. Three other copies are submitted, together with the report of the station's activities, to the electoral registry. The last copy is delivered to representatives or inspectors from political parties. If necessary, more copies of the Voting Machine Bulletin can be issued.

Aggregation

The next step is the aggregation of the results, i.e. the sum of the data from all Voting Machine Bulletins. That is the main difference between calculation and aggregation: the former takes place at the polling station, while the latter occurs in the election district (for municipal elections) or the Regional Electoral Court (for general elections).

After the Voting Machine Bulletin is printed, a floppy disk or flash drive (now digitally signed) containing the results is stored in encrypted form. When it arrives at the central server for the aggregation of votes, it is first checked for a digital signature. If the digital signature is valid, it is thus guaranteed that that result was generated by the electronic voting machine prepared for that polling station, i.e. it ensures the integrity and authenticity of the results in file.

After verification of the digital signature, the Voting Machine Bulletin is decrypted and several consistency checks are performed. If any inconsistency is confirmed - such as a divergence in the total number of votes and the number of voters who attended, or if the digital signature is invalid – the Bulletin is automatically discarded.

As explained by the coordinator of Electoral Systems of the Superior Electoral Court (TSE), José de Melo Cruz, the Bulletin is first transmitted to the Regional Courts (TREs) for aggregation, even for presidential elections. “The Regional Court, in turn, relays the sum of votes for president to the TSE. In summary: the aggregation in the States is a compilation of vote totals. Aggregation in the TSE is a compilation of the totals from the states", he explains.

Disclosure

Another information system used is the reporting system, called "Divulga." This system does not process data. It simply publishes the results from the processing made by other system, and allows election results to be monitored in near-real time. The processing of election data ends in the TREs, but it is the TSE's reporting system that will disclose the number of votes for governor, senator, federal representatives and state/district representatives. For the presidential election, the Superior Electoral Court performs the aggregation and publication of results.

The Divulga system is also used at the municipal elections, which elect the mayors and councilors of Brazil's more than 5,500 municipalities.

Challenge

According to Secretary of Information Technology of the TSE, Giuseppe Janino, Brazil is a country of contrasts, and  one major  challenge  of  the  country's Electoral Justice is to provide fully automated services in the Amazon and other hard-to-reach regions. The voting machines already reach the totality of these places. The next step is to ensure the rapid aggregation of results, which is already being done in many places through satellite transmission.

“Our country has 8.5 million square kilometers of area, over 60% of which are in the Amazon. This is a major difference between Brazil and the rest of the world. We say we have the largest computerized election in the world not only  with respect  to  numbers  (because  India  has  more  voters),  but  because  we have 100% automated polling, including hard-to-reach places like indigenous villages" he says. There are more than 400 indigenous villages only in Brazil's northern region.

Giuseppe explains that in indigenous villages with no electricity, the indigenous populations vote the same way and with the same resources, voting machine and software as a citizen in a state capital, in full equality of conditions to vote. Making this happen, Janino highlights, requires an enormous effort, which begins with the installation of the voting machine in these locations. In some cases, bringing in the electronic voting machine may take a week or more, and can be made only by helicopter or even by boat.

According to Giuseppe, many of these remote areas lack any electricity or any other means of communication. “Because of that, wherever there are fewer resources is where the Electoral Justice will invest more in technology", he says. The electronic voting machines are taken directly to such indigenous villages, where they are powered by batteries and a satellite-based data link station is installed next to the voting machine.

“When the data are transmitted, these are the first bulletins to reach the TREs. The first results to arrive at the TREs are those coming from places where there is more difficulty and fewer resources, i.e. those more distant from major centers", the secretary said.