Brazil and Venezuela: two stories about e-voting

In over two months, Brazil and Venezuela will ratify the use of electronic voting. Brazil will choose their next president first and Venezuela will renew its Congress, or Legislative Power. Both nations stand out as the standard-bearers of automation in Latin America and even though they use different electoral systems, they proudly exhibit their technologies to the world, thanks to their overall numbers of successful electoral events with satisfactory results, due to having reached stringent goals of security, swiftness and transparency.

The Brazilian case is seen and documented as an icon in South America, since this nation was the first to regulate electronic voting (1995) in the region and also the first to implement it. Actual automation started in 1996 with the help of several vendor companies, such as Unisys do Brazil. Later in 1998, 2000 and 2002, the companies Procomp (hardware) and Microban (software) were called to participate at the request of the Superior Electoral Tribunal, under the scheme that the final technology developed was to be owned and controlled by the State. All phases of an election were automated: voter registration, vote casting, and vote tallying. The next October 3 the system will be used again when close to 128 million people will elect a new President. Brazil has exported its voting system to various countries, which lease the equipment and hire support and maintenance.

The Brazilian voting machine features a small screen and a keypad where the voters mark the numbers assigned to their candidates. After checking the vote showing the photo that appears on screen, the user presses the “confirm” button, whereby the vote is casted. If the user doesn´t want to vote for any of the candidates, he or she may press the “white” button or has the option to cancel the vote by typing random numbers and pressing “confirm”.  For data storage the machine has two memory cards (flash cards) and a hard disk. At the end of the process, multiple records are printed with the outcome of the voting and it is recorded on the disk, to be transmitted through secure means to regional courts and ultimately to the Superior Electoral Tribunal for final tallying. The process is subject to various audits and the system requires electronic signatures of all operators involved.

The experience in Venezuela began in 1998 when a mixed system was introduced: the vote was manual, but the counting and tallying were automated. In 2004 the electronic vote got a legal basis and currently the elections are 100% automated. The voters exercised their right to vote using voting machines with touch screens (by clicking on the option on screen), and receiving a paper voucher (or VVPAT) that must be deposited in a ballot box, serving as the basis for audits or, if deemed necessary, to manual recounts..

The supplier of the voting machines is Smartmatic. The machines first used were of the SAES-3000 model, and the latest to be acquired were the SAES-4000. The National Electoral Council has about 40, 000 computers, including servers. In addition, the country uses an independent biometric voter identification system, based on fingerprint scanners. The electoral body uses about 12,000 of these stations across the country.

The Venezuelan voting automated platform offers over ten audits in order to ensure reliability. Before every election the poll books, the Electoral Register, the lists of those eligible members of the electoral boards in poll places, and the software used to select them are audited. The fingerprint readers, the indelible ink, among other items, are audited as well. After the election the closing audit is performed, which consists of reviewing the paper ballots cast in 54% of the ballot boxes, which must match the respective tallies. A week after Election Day a final audit is performed, in which a general review of the process is performed.

In both countries the corresponding automated system has been tailored to their characteristics, and today, is capable of 100% electronic voting. What led to the modernization of voting in Brazil and Venezuela? Most probably the need, as perceived by both states, to appease the voting public through a more trustworthy method of conducting elections. Given the recent history of political discontent and unrest in the population which threatened to give rise to turmoil and violence, the perspective of attaining fair, transparent elections was enormously attractive. There are three edges in a triangle that are inseparable and necessary. That is the challenge currently faced by many countries, making governments, parties and citizens to coalesce around, and benefit from, the guarantees offered by electronic voting.

Brazil and Venezuela: two stories about e-voting


4 thoughts on “Brazil and Venezuela: two stories about e-voting

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