Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The History of E-Voting in Brazil

Picture: alexdecarvalho
Some people have said that Brazil is ahead of its time when it comes to the country's electoral process. Indeed, the South American nation is widely regarded as a leader when it comes to electronic voting, but it's not like Brazil suddenly fell into this role overnight. The evolution of e-voting in Brazil has taken place over the last couple of decades with each progressive step moving into greater levels of both security and automation.

The shift toward electronic voting largely got its start in 1986 in Brazil. It was during that year that nearly 70 million voters across the country had to be re-registered under a new system. This was overseen by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) and it was positively essential in modernizing the voting process. The re-registration allowed the voter list to be streamlined, eliminating the millions of voters with dubious origins.

Having all the voters entered and confirmed into a centralized electronic database represented a huge step, allowed all the registrations to be reclassified with a national standard. This greater level of organization was positively integral in moving toward a fully electronic electoral system.

The next major milestone came in 1994 when the general elections were fully managed by the TSE central computer and this was followed in 1996 by the adoption of the electronic voting machine (EVM). Instead of paper ballots and other similar systems, voters were presented with the electronic machine. This was with certain municipal elections, like those in the state of Santa Catarina, and was only implemented in one third of the total electorate.

These early EVMs were developed by OMNITECH (previously TDA), Microbase, and Unisys do Brasil. Based on an IBM PC 80386 compatible computer, the machines used the VirtuOS operating system. This was similar to DOS and supported multi-tasking. Over the years, the Brazilian EVMs progressed to Windows CE and Linux-based operating systems too.

Two thirds of the electorate voted via EVMs in 1998 and the entirety of the Brazilian electorate voted electronically in the 2000 elections. During this time, many other countries around the world still used the paper ballot and only had limited implementation of electronic voting machines and electronic ballot counting systems.

The most recent major development came during the 2008 elections. It was at this time that a new form of voter identification began to be implemented. Instead of asking voters to present identification documentation, which can be forged or altered, voters were identified by means of a fingerprint reader. The digital recording of fingerprints has started and will take some time to be fully completed. That said, the database is already quite extensive as state governments already keep these on record.

A fingerprint is required in Brazil if the citizen wants a national identity card. This card is necessary for opening a bank account or applying for a job, so nearly all citizens are already on record. It is simply a matter of integrating these systems, particularly because the Brazilian people are already accustomed to having their fingerprints on record. The issue of privacy, in this regard, is virtually non-existent.

The biometric fingerprint readers were first test in the cities of Fátima do Sul (MS), João Baptista (SC) and Colorado do Oeste (RO). All said, nearly 50,000 voters were involved in the new system. Using fingerprints improves security and virtually eliminates any possibility of someone posing as another person to vote.

Public elections have certainly come a long way in Brazil since the days of pelouros (wax balls) as a means of casting votes in 1532. Other nations continue to look to Brazil as the leader and as a model of how e-voting can be safely, securely, and reliably used with large electorates.