Electronic Voting Machine series: Brazilian voting system raises interest all over the world

Electronic Voting Machine series: Brazilian voting system raises interest all over the world

A picture of Ane Cajado explaining the electronic voting machine to a delegation

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The Brazilian electronic voting system is known in a number of countries. Of these, seven (Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Argentina, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti and Mexico) have already used electronic voting machines developed by the Superior Electoral Court (TSE) in pilot projects. Paraguay used approximately 15,000 voting machines in 2006 for the country's municipal elections.

Since 1996, when a third of Brazil's electorate voted using voting machines, delegations from various countries have visited Brazil to get to know Brazil's electronic voting system. In the 2010 election year alone, 31 countries sent missions to follow the Brazilian elections and get to know the Brazilian system. They were: South Africa, Angola, Argentina, Benin, Cape Verde, China, Colombia, Congo, El Salvador, United States, France, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, India, Iran, Italy, Mexico, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Palestine, Paraguay, Portugal, Kenya, Russia, Sao Tomé and Príncipe, Sudan, East Timor, Turkey, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

As explained by the Advisor for International Affairs of the TSE, Tarcisio Costa, the Court has a tradition of international cooperation on different topics. “In recent years, the topic of the e-voting has raised much interest," he says. But he points out that there are other issues of interest, such as voter registration and the organization of the electoral process as a whole.

Tarcisio tells that the last delegation to visit Brazil came from Burkina Faso and was particularly interested in the Brazilian electoral process for citizens voting from abroad. The African country is currently experiencing a large diaspora, with around eight million citizens living outside the country, most of which concentrated in the Ivory Coast. The goal is to allow these people to participate in the electoral process beginning in the 2015 elections.

For two days, delegates from Burkina got to know how cooperation takes place between the Electoral Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, how voters are accredited outside the country, how electronic voting machines are transported and how the personnel operating in embassies and consulates are trained, among other details involved in allowing Brazilians abroad to vote. “They know Brazil has a good experience in this field and sought us to get to know it better," Costa stated.

According to him, in the coming months the TSE will receive missions from Peru (interested in the electronic voting machine) and Sudan (interested in finding out more about the Brazilian voter registration system, which includes biometric identification). The Advisor for International Affairs believes that, next to the electronic voting system, biometric identification is likely to become another rich area for cooperation with the TSE.

Agreements signed

Among the various agreements signed by Brazil, there are projects signed with Russia involving exchanges of experiences (including on the voting machine) and with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the European Union (to support the organization of election processes in Portuguese-speaking African countries). 

Regarding the extent to which the agreements assist in improving the democracy of nations seeking TSE cooperation, Tarcisio Costa remarks this is an answer to be given by the countries themselves. “But I certainly believe that Brazil provides technical elements and aid that, if well used, can help these countries expedite their electoral process, afford greater reliability to votes, enhance voting secrecy and assist in the effective universalization of citizenship rights with the inclusion of citizens living abroad [into the electoral process]", he adds.

Giuseppe Janino, Secretary of Information Technology of the TSE, notes that Brazil has become a world reference regarding the electoral process. “Everyone leaves here very impressed. And they take back with them knowledge that can be adapted to their countries’ system or used to establish cooperation agreements", he says. 

Costa, in turn, claims that foreign visitors are particularly impressed with the magnitude of the process and its efficiency. “But they are also particularly surprised with the simplicity of the system. They notice how simple the voting machine is", he says. “They leave here less amazed by state-of-the-art technologies than with the fact that we have devised a product adapted to our circumstances and that operates with a very high degree of efficiency," he says.

The Court's Secretary of IT notes that the electronic voting system was developed to cater for Brazilian specificities. “These specificities are related to our Constitution, the Electoral Code, supplementary laws and TSE resolutions, and to them are added the socioeconomic and cultural characteristics of the Brazilian people. Basically, our system was not imported. It was created and developed for our characteristics, and serves them very well", says Giuseppe.

As such, he adds that proposed cooperation agreements with other countries in the electoral area seek simply to provide some level of consultancy and relay information on how the process took place in Brazil.

Getting to know the voting machine

The Advisor for International Affairs reports that missions coming to Brazil to learn of the country's electronic voting system receive an overview of the entire history leading to the country's development of the electronic voting machine. “In this overview, they get to know one of the key factors that drives the Brazilian experience: it was, and continues to be, a gradual process", he notes.

According to Tarcisio Costa, the overviews are always prepared with a high degree of technical detail about the voting machine and the entire electronic voting system. Common questions from visitors include whether or not it is possible to track who voted in the voting machine (vote randomization), the degree of security in the transmission of the data contained in the voting machine and the software used to process the votes, among other questions.

“We respond to these questions with great transparency on our part. How they use that information varies from case to case, I believe. But based on the level of detail of the overviews and the availability to clarify doubts, not only during but after the missions, I would say that they leave here with very good guidelines", Tarcisio Costa claims. The composition of these missions varies. In general, there are representatives of the electoral area of the visiting country, IT technicians and the parties responsible for financing.

Costa also highlights that "there are other countries that have adopted [the voting machine], but either hurriedly and without prior testing or without due care for continuous improvement”. “Brazil's success in this field is unique," he concludes. 

Demonstrations around the world

The TSE has made several demonstrations to disseminate the Brazilian electronic voting system. Brazil participated in international events in Mozambique and South Africa, while Guinea-Bissau has received a Brazilian mission. In Asia, there was a visit to Japan. In the Americas, Peru, Bolivia, Haiti, Panama and the United States have requested technical information on the Brazilian electronic voting system. In Europe, the UK, Russia and Italy have shown interest in the Brazilian electoral system in general.

Members of the Brazilian Electoral Justice also participated in peacekeeping missions in East Timor. Election observers from Brazil's three branches accompanied the elections held in that country in 2001 for the choice of the 88 representatives of the East Timorese National Constituent Assembly. 

Additionally, East Timor had the assistance of TSE staff for the preparation of the country's Electoral Code and in conducting the elections of 2002 and 2007, which chose the country's parliament and President.