Monday, March 18, 2019

Brazil election system: From paper ballots to e-voting giant

By the end of the last century, there was a deep-rooted public outcry regarding electoral justice across the world. This urge bore the need for electronic voting, a technology solution ensuring transparency, accountability, and security in election processes.

Brazil was among the pioneer nations that embraced e-voting. Voting was made compulsory with the introduction of electronic voting in 1996. Fast forward twenty-three years, and there are many lessons we have learned from this South American giant.

Grim beginnings
The Brazilian system was secret balloting whereby votes were cast individually on traditionally printed ballot papers. Over time, analysts and skeptics alluded that the traditional scheme of voting had massive flaws that rendered the electoral process shambolic.

The paper voting system and the ballot boxes proved untrustworthy. The paper-based manual system demanded intensive workforce which drew significant amounts in compensation, even if it did not ensure the accuracy and credibility of the process. Similarly, there was no possibility to reuse or recycle paper ballots.

The system was characterized by massive destruction of votes as well as manipulation during tallying. Besides, the traditional method of voting was tedious, and many citizens avoided participating. For instance, people who lived far away from the voting booth would skip voting, compromising on the turnout expected. This shortcoming also created a leeway for electoral fraud and malpractice such as bribes for people to take part.

Something had to change. It was for many of these reasons that electronic voting was proposed and implemented.

The election technology transformation

Elections around the world are increasingly relying on technology to make them more transparent and efficient. Technology is easing many election-related processes ranging from registration of voter IDs to announcement of polling stations, counting of votes to online results publication and many other things.

By the year 2000, Brazil was already conducting elections using digital ballot boxes nationwide. Nowadays, the country has over 460,000 electronic voting stations, which help to increase the number of voters each year, at around six percent.

Since the introduction of e-voting, Brazil has witnessed a significant reduction of barriers to democratic participation, particularly among the less educated electorate. For example, electronic voting has eliminated many reported difficulties for writing paper ballots.

The machines are being modernized with each passing election to develop a user-friendly and straightforward interface so that illiterate voters can also easily use them. They have also isolated the machine from communication devices, dedicating them for only voting purpose, for reducing the chances of external hacking. In addition to the installation of fingerprint readers in the digital machines, the Brazilian government is also working to equip them with face readers.

The paradigm shift from traditional paper ballots to electronic voting in Brazil has further established mainly positive effects stemming from abating spoiled votes together with the enfranchisement of lesser socio-economic status electorates.

Brazil has gone a long way in its election technology journey. It has already set an excellent precedent for other democracies, even though there is -and there will continuously be- room for improvement to enhance its electronic voting solution.