Opinion, by Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – This Sunday, Brazilian citizens will vote for one President, 27 state Governors, 54 federal Senators, 513 federal deputies and thousands of state deputies, all of whom will take office on January 1, 2019.

Michael Royster, aka The Curmudgeon.
Michael Royster, aka The Curmudgeon.

In the presidential and gubernatorial contests, candidates who garner one-half plus one of the valid votes (void and blank votes are not counted) are elected. If no candidate wins a majority, the two with the most votes face off in a runoff round held October 27th.  Then the vote is “first-past-the-post”, meaning that whoever receives the most votes wins, even if it is a not a majority of the total votes cast.

The Senate first-round races are strictly first-past-the-post, where the two candidates receiving the most votes are elected. There is no runoff election — third place is as bad as last.  This explains why political parties never run more than one senatorial candidate, even though this year there are two seats to be filled—they worry that if two candidates split their supporters’ votes, both will lose to candidates from other parties.

Turning to federal and state lower house legislators (called deputies), there is a more complex situation. In these elections, unlike those for president, governor and senator, the (electronic) ballot box permits a straight party line vote, without indicating any specific candidate. Most voters, however, do choose individual candidates.

In the race for chamber of deputies seats, the votes for both the party and the individual candidate count. Parties can field more candidates than there are seats. If a party’s candidates get 25 percent of the total valid votes, it is entitled to 25 percent of the seats in the legislature. The party fills those seats with those of its candidates receiving the most votes.

Now for the actual numbers, which are ubiquitous and potentially confusing to foreigners, but are essential to understanding the system for one principal reason: in Brazil, votes are cast by number, not by name.

As a starting point, each political party registered by the Electoral Tribunal (there are now 35) has an identifying two-digit number chosen when it is formed. Before elections, all candidates are assigned an identifying number by their party, and all campaign material must contain this number.

For presidential and gubernatorial candidates, only the two-digit party number is shown, because parties can have no more than one candidate for those positions. Senatorial candidates have three-digit numbers — the party number plus one number afterwards. Candidates for federal deputy have four-digit numbers, and candidates for state deputy have five-digit numbers; all start with the two-digit party number.

At the polling station, the screens show blank boxes, where voters key in the numbers of their chosen candidates. When they do, the screen shows a picture ID with the name of the candidate whose number has been chosen. When the voter confirms that number, the vote is cast.

The screens Sunday will allow voters six (6) votes: the first is for federal deputy (four-digit); next is state deputy (five-digit); then come two separate (three-digit) votes for senator, and one each for governor and president.

For those who are wondering, the Curmudgeon cannot vote in Brazil, as he is not a citizen, but he has been following elections here for the past thirty years.

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