Brazil extends the use of Biometrics to protect votes











After 11 years of having incorporated Biometrics technology into their election systems –fingerprint scanning for identity verification– Brazil is preparing to close the cycle, expanding its use. The plan is to advance the plan seeking that the majority of the 148 million registered voters in this nation have access to the devices that ensure the identification of voters.

Better known as biometric identification, this tool has gone from a widespread use in the corporate and industrial world –for instance, for personnel Access Control– to enjoy adoption by electoral bodies. The measure of expanding Biometrics coverage to elections is turning Brazil into one of its greatest exponents.

In Brazil, the electoral platform is in charge of the Superior Electoral Tribunal (TSE), meaning that voting machine manufacture, and management of the voting and tallying system enabling today’s 100% automated voting, are the responsibility of this agency. This includes electoral equipment featuring numeric keyboards that capture fingerprints prior to casting votes.

According to TSE sources, the decision to employ Biometrics stemmed from the necessity to eliminate wrongdoings associated just to double voting and identity impersonation, which are persistent irregularities in Latin America.

In order to face such challenge, in 2008 fingerprint gathering machines were put in use prior to casting votes, and gradually TSE increased their use. For example, while in 2014 Biometrics covered just 16.4% of the registry or 23.3 million voters, in 2018 it covered 50% of the electorate, which then amounted to 147.2 million people.

In order to further expand these figures, in several regions the electoral authority has ruled the mandatory taking fingerprints at the regional offices. An example is Sao Paulo, where since February voters are urged to have their fingerprints taken, a step that enables them to vote in the upcoming 2020 elections.

As may be recalled, the Brazilian electronic voting model mandatorily requires each voter to produce his/her ID document on arrival at the voting station, but in the case the voting takes place in a city already having biometric identity checking, a voter may proceed directly to a device that checks his/her identity, instead of searching names in old-style voter listings.

In this fashion, illegally voting impersonating another voter or voting several times, something that has muddled results in many countries and cramped citizen’s trust in the system, is being successfully defeated in Brazil, by allowing biometric technology to greatly advance the electoral endeavor. By using technology, it is obvious that protecting the identity of voters, their votes are getting more secure.

Recap of 2016 electoral events


2016 was a banner year for elections with over 30 countries in all continents carrying out a total of 133 elections.  Total voter turnout amounted to some 757.6 million people.

In the Americas, 2016 was a particularly busy year with two most populated countries (Brazil and the USA) going to the polls.

The contrast between manual and electronic elections was made more evident as  e-voting pioneers Brazil and the USA underscored the immense benefits of technology while countries like Peru, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Ecuador held out, stubbornly refusing to modernize and thereby, as in the case of DR, imperiling its very democracy.

Let us take a more detailed look at events.

United States

US voters elected their new leaders on November 8.  Despite all the noise about the possibility of hackers tampering with the vote, the elections went smoothly.

The unabated proliferation of fake news took everyone by surprise and yet the voting itself experienced no problems.  In the state of Wisconsin, where a recount took place, it was proved that when technology is properly implemented, the risks of the people’s will being tampered with are minimal, if not null.


In October, Brazil deployed its huge e-voting platform boasting of some 450k voting machines. These were used for municipal elections where over 5,500 offices were to be elected.

Despite the enormous political turmoil the country is experiencing, the country took a step forward in its political recovery with these elections.


The political tension which arose from the close results of the Peruvian presidential elections made the final push for automation an imperative.

The July 5th polls saw a neck and neck contest between the top contenders and revealed how ill-prepared the National Office of Electoral Processes (ONPE) was in dealing  with a highly polarized nation. Although the country already has legislation to modernize voting, and has even designed an electronic vote model that has been under testing for years, the electoral authorities have been dragging its feet in rolling out e-voting.

Dominican Republic

2016 proved to be a rocky year for the DR. Its Central Electoral Board hired Spanish-based Indra Sistemas to provide biometric identification and automated voting technology for the May 15 polls.

Unfortunately, technical and operational errors plagued the implementation of both the fingerprint capture devices and the vote counting machines.  The problem was so bad that the Organization of American States (OAS) was prompted to say  that “the weakest point of the day was the use of voting machines, since they were missing from several polling centres or had connectivity or operation problems.”

The poll body has recommended to review and audit the entire platform.


The November 20th Haitian elections showed that the country is still heavily dependent on international aid to mount elections. Although it managed, however barely, to pull off the last general election (whose final results were delayed for weeks, triggering accusations of fraud), the experience made it clear that the country should lose no time modernizing its polls.


After piloting an e-voting system where 100% automated models showed their superiority over those that only automate vote counts, The Ecuadorian National Electoral Council (CNE) surprised everyone by abandoning the initiative.  Even more baffling, it declared the two bidding processes scheduled to purchase results transmission technology to be “deserted”.

Instead, the poll body decided to accept a donation from the government of South Korea of 2,000 digitalization and transmission devices of precinct counts. To date, little is known about the systems on which the broadcast of results will be relying. What we do know is that the technology will merely scan and digitize manually filled out precinct counts.

Paper vote receipts: Making the vote verifiable


Some DRE machine models have the capacity to print a vote receipt on paper automatically.

In their search for an e-voting model that guarantees accuracy, ease in ballot casting, and verifiability, countries are increasingly opting for e-voting solutions that include printing a vote receipt. This type of receipt is called a Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT).

The main attraction of VVPAT systems is the fact that they enable voters to check in real time that the vote registered, which is the one printed by the machine, matches the choices they just inputted. In addition to enabling this verification, physically printing each vote generates a paper trail that opens the possibility to manually count and compare paper votes totals with the automated counts reflected on the minutes.

Due to the electoral guarantee involving the use of VVPAT, some countries now demand it with e-voting solutions, such as Brazil and India. Although the first of the two is an automation pioneer, its machines do not have printers that replicate digital votes on paper. For this reason, several initiatives have arisen to renew the country’s equipment so as to give way to paper trails for votes.

On the other hand, although India has become a benchmark in the successful implementation of voting machines, it has not yet fulfilled its promise to modernize its system by implementing paper trail printing in order to shield the people’s intent. However, the Supreme Court has already issued a ruling demanding its use.

Venezuela is a pioneer in the use of VVPAT in the region. The mark this practice leaves was reflected on a study conducted by Peru’s National Office for Electoral Processes (Onpe), which shows how the DRE model is progressing firmly compared to other e-voting models. It also shows how paper trails are gaining ground both in countries where electoral automation is used and countries where its implementation is still under study, such as Colombia, Peru and Ecuador.

The way e-voting has found a way to defeat suspicion and fear has been shielding all the phases of the process. VVPAT is a guarantee for expansion.