19 days left: Brazilian pioneer electronic voting system enhances transparency of the electoral process

2018. urna

In the General Elections of 2018, more than 147.3 million Brazilians will use the electronic voting machine in an electoral process whose transparency, quality and efficiency reveal the commitment of the Electoral Justice ensuring the candor during the vote. This will be the 12th consecutive election held over 22 years using the electronic voting machine: system fundamental for the consolidation of Brazilian democracy. It was used for the first time in the municipal elections of 1996 – the first computerized election that reached 32 million Brazilians, equivalent to 1/3 of the electorate.

Because of the development of the electronic voting machine, Brazil became pioneer in the use of technology and in the elimination of human interference throughout the electoral process – from captation to the totaling of voters. It is a genuinely Brazilian creation, developed by the Electoral Justice, as well as the software for processing votes.

 The last five presidential and six municipal elections were held using the electronic voting machine. Long before the election, the TSE begins developing the electronic voting machine ecosystem, which is the set of software solutions that allows supporting and automating the activities and processes involving the machine, from the communication to the media to the totalization of votes of the section, functioning as a unit that interacts around the electronic voting machine.

Transparency

According to the electoral legislation, six months before the first round of the elections the political parties, the Brazilian Bar Association (OAB) and the Public Prosecution may follow the specification and development phases of the electoral systems by means of representatives formally indicated and qualified before the Information Technology Secretariat (STI) of the TSE. Once completed, the programs to be used in the electoral process are digitally signed by the president of the TSE and by representatives of those entities at the Ceremony for Digital Signature and Sealing of Systems.

Digital signature is a cryptographic technique used to ensure that content, in this case a digital file, can be verified primarily for its integrity. It ensures that the computer program has not been modified or has not lost its original features due to failure in writing or reading it. This means that if the digital signature is valid, the file has not been modified.

The digital signature is also used to ensure the authenticity of the program, ie to confirm that the program is officially originated and was generated by the Superior Electoral Court. In this case, only people who have signed digitally may have generated that digital signature.

The hash function, also called a cryptographic summary or hash, is a cryptographic technique that resembles a check digit. Given a digital file, one can calculate the hash function of this file with a public algorithm (mathematical method known to all). In the case of electronic machine systems, the hashes of all files are calculated and the summaries are published on the TSE website.

 

Auditing

On Election Day, the Electoral Justice conducts an audit of the operation of the electronic voting machines and the data security procedures of electoral systems. The machines are withdrawn from electoral zones that are picked at random and go through a sort of parallel voting. At the end of the simulation, the bulletin that compiles the results of the ballot is checked to show that there was no divergence from the choices made. This year, the audition of the electronic voting machines will take place on October 7 and 28 (in the latter case, only in locations where there is a second round of voting), from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. local time.

The event is open to the public, supervised by political parties and authorities, and is conducted by the Regional Electoral Courts (TREs) in all units of the Federation. The procedure, in practice, aims at simulating real voting. The choices made in the electronic voting machine are compared with what was written on a paper sheet and in an independent checkout terminal. Everything is done in a filmed and supervised environment. Until this day, no audits have failed to prove a coincidence between the BUs and the reports issued by the voting support system.

The news for this year is the verification audit of the authenticity and integrity of the systems installed in the electronic voting machines in real time. The new modality of auditing will happen before the beginning of the voting, in electoral sections picked on the elections eve, and may be follow directly by representatives of political parties, Brazilian Bar Association (OAB) and Public Prosecution. 

The audit will consist of verifying if the digital signatures of the systems sealed at the TSE at the beginning of September complies with the signatures contained in the electronic voting machine installed in the electoral section, just before the “zéresima” and the beginning of the election. The “zerésima” is the report issued by the electronic voting machine before the beginning of voting, which brings the equipment identification and proves that all the candidates are registered, and that none of them computes votes, that is, that the machine has zero votes so far. At the same time, a report of all the digital summaries of the can be checked one by one, at any time, with the list published on the TSE website.