The Electoral Court System and the first Election Code of Brazil celebrate 82 years of existence on February 24

The Electoral Court System and the first Election Code of Brazil celebrate 82 years of existence on February 24.

The Electoral Court System and the first Election Code of Brazil celebrate 82 years of existence on February 24. Their creation goes back to 1932 and translates a story of struggles and victories for consolidating people’s vote and democracy.

This field of Courts of Special Jurisdiction arose from the idea of creating an institution to be solely liable for organizing and coordinating elections. One of the purposes of the Brazilian Revolution of 1930 was precisely to modernize the electoral system and to mitigate the possibility of frauds.

The first Election Code of Brazil created the Electoral Court System for entirely conducting elections. On May 20, 1932, there was the creation of the Superior Electoral Court (TSE), located in a building at Avenida Rio Branco, in Rio de Janeiro.

Vote and citizenship

The Election Code of 1932 was liable for important innovations in Brazil. It adopted the secret ballot, registration of women voters and proportional representation voting system. The Code assigned to the Electoral Court System the responsibility for organizing the election process, including registering voters, organizing electoral boards, counting votes and acknowledging and proclaiming the elected officials.

For the first time, the Brazilian election laws referred to political parties, not allowing candidates without political affiliation. Another innovative feature: article 57 of the Code already served as a framework for the use of voting machines, which would only happen 60 years later, with the introduction of the electronic ballot box as from the elections of 1996.

The Code also created the Regional Electoral Courts.
With the inauguration of the Brazilian New State (“Estado Novo”) as from November 1937, the Constitution, known as “Polaca” (Polish), extinguished the Electoral Court System in Brazil, abolished political parties, suspended free elections and established the indirect election for the President of Brazil with term of office of six years.

With Getúlio Vargas being overthrown, on October 29, 1945, by a coup d´état that combined the opposition with the military forces, Agamemnon’s Act was created. The Election Code of 1945 finally reestablished the Electoral Court System in Brazil, assigning thereto once more the responsibility for organizing the registration of voters and elections. The Superior Electoral Court was once again in force, in Rio de Janeiro, where it was located until 1960, when it was transferred to the newly inaugurated city of Brasília. In 1965, the new Election Code became effective (Act no. 4,737), which is in force until the date hereof.

The Code of 1932 had 144 articles. In its turn, the Code of 1965 was published on July 15 of that year with 383 articles. After re-democratization, the National Congress of Brazil approved several laws in order to improve the election process, such as the Political Parties Act (Act no. 9,096/1995), Elections Act (Act no. 9,504/1997), Ineligibilities Act (Supplementary Act no. 64/1990) and Ficha Limpa (Clean Slate) Act (Supplementary Act no. 135/2010), in addition to several resolutions approved by TSE for each election.

Advanced code

For Ricardo Caldas, political scientist and professor of the University of Brasília (UnB), the Brazilian Election Code of 1932 is deemed an advanced code since it established the secret ballot, included women’s right to vote, consolidated the proportional representation and started the discussion about voting machines. He asserted as follows: “USA had already began to adopt it, since the said invention already existed, and even without being popular, Brazil was aware of its existence, thus, it was deemed a type of forecast”.

He also points out that the Code nationalized the election rules. The political scientist reminded that “In Brazil, as from 1932, elections became a national matter. So, the States cannot legislate on national matters, such as the electoral system”.

Court of Democracy

After being effective once again in 1945, one of the main activities of the Electoral Court System was to raise awareness concerning the importance of voting for strengthening democracy. The new Constitution, enacted in 1946, determined that the Electoral Court System was one of the agencies of the Judicial Branch.

In April 1960, TSE was transferred to Brasília. The term of military regime, from 1964 to 1985, displayed several institutional acts, by means of which the new order controlled the election process.

Brazil’s re-democratization in the 80s was the beginning of a new stage for the Electoral Court System. After intense social mobilization for direct elections, Tancredo Neves was elected the President of Brazil by an electoral college in January 1985, but did not take office. With Tancredo’s death, the Vice President, José Sarney, became the President of Brazil. The country experienced the end of several laws from the military regime. One of the most relevant legal changes was the enactment of the Constitutional Amendment no. 25, which reestablished direct elections for the President and Vice President of Brazil.

There was need for a new Constitution, which would reflect the re-democratization achieved, as well as the social advances. Upon completion of the works of the Constitutional Convention, the Brazilian Constitution was enacted on October 5, 1988. It established the direct election for president, governor, mayor, senator, congressman, state/district legislator and city councilor. It adopted the referendum and plebiscite as ways for people to participate and determined the optional vote for the illiterate, for young people in the ages of 16 and 17 years and for those older than 70 years.

Unified registration and electronic ballot box

From the second half of the 80s, there were several advances in the Electoral Court System. In 1986, the Brazilian Register of Voters was created, with unified data of the area. Thus, the States no longer used handwritten papers for registering the citizens’ information.

In the elections of 1996, the voters of capital cities and of municipalities with over 200 thousand voters started to vote in electronic ballot boxes. In the following municipal elections, in 2000, all Brazilian voters already used such equipment to vote, a fact that was without precedent worldwide concerning an election agency.

After implementing the electronic voting system, the Electoral Court System also endeavored to gradually re-register voters by means of biometric identification (fingerprints) and to use satellites for broadcasting the election results from distant locations increasingly faster.

Nowadays, the Brazilian electronic voting system is a reference worldwide.