Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Technology and the 2014 Brazil general election

The 2014 general election in Brazil will see the election of a Brazilian President, as well as the National Congress, state governors and state legislatures. Incumbent President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers' Party, the first female president of the country, is running for re-election and she has been the front-runner in the first round of opinion polls. This election will also prove to be intriguing because of the increased role that electronic voting technology will be taking in the process.

Electronic voting, or “e-voting,” has had a long and strong history in Brazil. Each successive election has introduced greater measures and technology to help ensure improved security and increased automation. The 2014 Brazilian general elections are no different.

For those who are casting their ballots from abroad, Brazil's Federal District Regional Electoral Court (TRE-DF) is deploying over 900 voting machines to nearly 100 countries around the world. Remote voting for expatriates and those working abroad is an issue that is sometimes downplayed in other elections around the world, but the TRE-DF is treating it as an important priority.

The process for preparing, sealing, shipping and deploying the electronic voting machines is being very carefully monitored and controlled. The TRE-DF is working closely with consulates and diplomatic missions from the different countries. An audit team checks all the machines before they are securely stored for transport and the transportation process falls under the same rigorous scrutiny for security as those machines used in Brazil itself.

Brazil started testing electronic voting way back in 1996 with the goal of extreme simplicity. The machines were meant to be easy to use and easy to deploy, automating the electoral process as much as possible. In the nearly two decades that have followed, Brazil has continued to utilize technology, including direct-recording electronic voting machines (DRE). Efficiency, confidentiality and security have improved greatly.

In an effort to further improve security, Brazil introduced a biometric voter authentication system in a 2008 pilot project that continued with the elections that followed in 2010 and 2012. The system, overseen by the Superior Electoral Court (TSE) utilizes a high-definition biometric fingerprint scanner. The pilot project only saw use by a 100,000 voters across three counties, but this number grew to over a million voters in 60 cities for 2010. In the 2012 election, some 7.7 million voters were authenticated and identified via the biometric system. Voter fraud is minimized and the legitimacy of the vote is upheld.

For the 2014 general election, the deployment of biometric authentication is expanding once again. Over 22 million people will be identified by their fingerprints.

With a geographical area of 8.5 million square kilometres (3.2 million square miles), Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world. While the majority of its citizens do live in urban areas like Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil still has many remote rural areas where voters may struggle with access. By deploying over 1400 Broadband Global Area Network SABRE satellite terminals, a Smartmatic-led consortium called Smartitec is securing data and voice communications in Brazil's 15 most isolated states. Voters in remote areas have just as much of a right to choosing their government as their urban counterparts.

Between the deployment of voting terminals for remote voting abroad, the expanded use of biometrics for voter authentication, and the inclusion of secure satellite terminals for voting in remote areas, Brazil's 2014 general elections illustrate the powerful use of technology in the modern electoral process.