Elections 2018: the Organization of American States underlines the effort of the Electoral Justice on fighting against fake news

2019. Março. Relatório OEA 2

The Brazilian Electoral Justice made an effort on fighting against the dissemination of fake news during the 2018 General Elections, as well as promoting the transparency, the fast counting and divulgation of the election results and the enlargement of trust that the people deposits in the country’s authorities.  These were some of the conclusions of the final report made in occasion of the Electoral Observation Mission from the Organization of American States that accompanied the Brazilian elections last year. The document was published this Wednesday (6th), during the session of the Permanent Council of OAS, in Washington D.C., at the United States. Took part on the event the General Secretary of the Presidency of TSE, Estêvão Waterloo, that represented the Brazilian Electoral Court.

The OAS mission, first of the organization to accompany a Brazilian election, underlines, in the report, the performance of TSE altogether with communication vehicles, online platforms and the society on fighting against the dissemination of fake news on the internet, with fact checking initiatives. According to the international organization, that enriched the role played by the media in the country on offering a critical coverage of the disinformation and propaganda, as part of their news services. According to OAS, publishing truthful information in counterpoint to the fake ones “is the most effective tool for fighting against” this type of action.

The performance of these agents in the 2018 General Elections happened, according to the Observation Mission, on a context in which the traditional media campaign was more intense on the internet and caused concerns in many agents of the electoral process regarding the propagation of fake news.

In the document, the OAS Mission rememorizes that the fake news phenomenon came up in an era of progressive growth on the internet usage, that reached almost 60% of the Brazilian population in 2016. According to the OAS observers, during the electoral process, based on the attributions granted by law, the Brazilian Electoral Justice demanded for the removal of content considered to be defamatory. At this point in the report, the OAS observers lament the irresponsible usage that many political sectors made of private message systems for massive dissemination of disinformation. Also, they underline that, if employed in an effective way, such tools “could contribute for the exchange of information between candidates and voters and aid the competent authority to approach the electoral process from society”.

In this context, the International Mission recalls that, foreseeing the possibility of the misutilization of social media during the 2018 elections, the TSE created on December 7th 2017 an Advisory Council about Internet and Elections. The collegiate was created with the goal of developing researches and studies about the electoral rules and the influence of internet on the elections, mainly on the risk of the propagation of fake news and the utilization of bots for that purpose.

Facing the fake news phenomenon, that happened on both rounds of the elections, the observers praise, in the document, the reaction of the Brazilian authorities, the media, the fact checking agencies and the online platforms on combating the disinformation process. According to the Mission, TSE adopted, in the course of the electoral process, new initiatives, such as a new website (“Esclarecimentos” in Portuguese) for denying fake information. At the same time, according to the report, the Brazilian Electoral Court intensified its internal and external campaign for disseminating the correct information.

 

Celerity on the divulgation of Results

 At the first round of the elections, held on October 7th , the Observation Mission of OAS visited 390 electoral sections (voting spots) in 130 centers of the Federal District and other 12 states. The observers were present in counting verification rooms of TSE and at the Integrated Center of Command and Control of the Elections.  In the report, the Mission positively evaluates the creation of the Center of Command, that “made easier the coordinated job of the different institutions involved” in the security aspects of the election.

In none of the 390 tables accompanied by the Mission were registered problems with the electronic voting machine. The installation of the electronic voting machines and the print of the “zerésima” –document that shows that not even a single vote has been registered in the electronic voting machine by the moment that the voting day starts – happened normally and within the predicted time. The observers also concluded that, in all verified voting places, was given preference, in the voting act, to the elderly, pregnant or women with new born babies and people with disabilities.

By the end of the day, the OAS Mission accompanied the upload of the results for the Regional Electoral Courts at one of the transmission points. By 7p.m. of the election day, inform the observers, the Brazilian Electoral Justice published the first official results for the President office. Two hours and a half later, 97,4% of the voting spots from all over the country had been counted.

On the section of the report about the second round of the elections (October 28th), the Observation Mission of OAS underlines, just as it happened on the first round, the celerity of the TSE for “delivering a secure information (election results) for the citizens”. The mission verified that, by 7p.m. on the Election Day, more than 88% results of the voting spots were already finished and, an hour later, the information of 99% of the voting spots was available, with the totalization of more than 100 million votes.

The Mission integrants emphasize that the usage of technology, within the electronic voting system, made possible to rapidly know the elections results, generating security and tranquility to citizens, with an official and precise information two hours after the closing of the last electronic voting machines at Acre and Amazonas states.

According to the document, the OAS observers visited, during the second round, 392 polling stations and 121 electoral centers at the Federal District and other 11 Brazilian states. At the visited places, the International Mission verified that all voting stations opened right after the electronic voting machines were installed and the zerézima printed.

The report highlights that the OAS mission noticed a low presence of parties inspectors during the elections. According to the data collected by the observers, there was no party representation in 73% of the stations by the moment of opening and closing of the voting period. The Mission also did not detect the presence of national observers, agents that are not mandatory by law. Facing its conclusions, the OAS Mission reiterates, in this section of the report, the importance of involvement from political parties and civilians on the inspection of the different steps of the electoral process.

In the document, the OAS observers accentuate that, by the end of the voting journey, the procedure for printing the ballot reports occurred with no further problems in all the sections verified by them. The Mission also informs that accompanied the transmission of the results and the totalization of votes at the TREs.

 

Women in politics

The OAS observers, in the report, praise the Brazilian Judicial authorities for promoting the creation of mechanisms that aim to reach equality for women in the space of political representation, as well as consider essential the role TSE can play on promoting an effective feminine participation on politics.

 

Organization and inspection of the electoral process

In another point of the report, the Mission integrants acknowledge the trust deposited by the Brazilian people on the country’s electoral authorities. As stated by the OAS Mission, on facing the challenge of organizing an electoral process of enormous complexity, given the country’s dimension and size of the electorate, the Brazilian Electoral Justice showed that possesses a “professional and robust voting system, with great prestige in de continent”.

In that context, the Mission emphasizes that, nonetheless the critics about the usage of the electronic voting machines, it has showed to be an efficient tool that allowed to, once again in 2018, just as it has been for 22 years, “obtain fast and secure results, reducing the human mistakes and granting pacific transitions of power”.

 

Freedom of speech

On the final report, the OAS Electoral Mission affirms that, during last year’s election, many politics presented pleas to the electoral authorities demanding for a media coverage of their electoral activities or for an avoidance of data divulgation considered to be a result of privileged treatment to a specific candidate or party. The International Mission observes that, on deciding about such pleas from candidates, parties or coalitions, the TSE “made a meticulous balance between the right to freedom of speech and the guarantees of media access by the candidates”.

 

Public Security Test

The Electoral Observation Mission positively regards the Public Test of Security of the Electronic Voting System, made by TSE. The test if a part of the electoral calendar and occurs, preferably, on the year before an election in the country.

The test has an objective of identifying vulnerabilities related to the electronic voting system, aiming to correct them before the elections. Individuals and groups of experts in information technology, external to the Electoral Justice, participate in the test by promoting attacks to the system. The event occurs in an exclusive space, with a controlled entry and camera monitoring. The investigators selected to participate on the test have access to components from the electronic voting system that otherwise in a normal election scenario would never happen.

According to OAS observers, the test allows for the electoral authorities to identify possible vulnerabilities so that the different components of the system can be protected.

 

Cancelation of Voters Identity Cards

Although there has been some questionings from political entities regarding the cancelation of Voter Identity Cards, the OAS observers attested that such measure followed the rules of the Brazilian Legislation on the subject. The components of the international mission didn’t verify any political intention on the Electoral Justice acts.

 

 Acknowledgements

In another part of the report, the Electoral Observation Mission of OAS thanks the access granted to all the information requested for the Brazilian authorities and also for having received in time the details related to the processing of the elections results. According to the OAS team, the processing of results and its divulgation were made with transparency and with the presence of electoral authorities, representatives of political parties and international observers.

The mission congratulates the logistical, human and capital effort made in order to allow for Brazilians abroad to vote. At the same time, underlines the compromise from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Electoral Justice for the team work, since 2015, in other to facilitate the voting process for Brazilian on other countries – number that has increased from 18,5 thousand voters in 1989 for more than 500 thousand in the General Elections of 2018.

 

Invitation to OAS

During the 2018 Elections, for the first time, the OAS promoted an Electoral Observation Mission in Brazil. The Organization accepted an invitation made by the Brazilian Government, in September 2017, after consults between the TSE, the Presidency and the MRE. The Electoral Observation Mission of OAS covered the first and second rounds of the 2018 General Elections, which occurred respectively in October 7th and 28th. The OAS mission was headed by the Costa Rica former president, Laura Chinchilla.

In September 28th 2018, the Mission started its allocation for accompanying the first round of the Brazilian elections. The integrants of the Mission made an analysis of the main aspects of the electoral process, which included the electoral organization and technology, campaign financing, women participation in politics, access to the media and freedom of speech, Electoral Justice and participation of indigenous peoples and afro-descendants.

Check out the whole report from the Electoral Observation Mission from OAS.