By Sarah de Sainte Croix, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazil’s voting technology has come a long way since the first recorded election in 1532, when votes were cast in wax balls (called ‘pelouros,’) to establish who would administrate the towns and villages created by the newly-arrived Portuguese.
In 2000, when the United States presidential election unfortunately introduced the world to the term ‘hanging chad,’ Brazil was undertaking the first fully automated election on the planet. This year the TSE, (Tribunal Superior Eleitoral, or Superior Electoral Court,) will act as a global innovator once again by adding state-of-the-art biometric technology to its electronic voting system.
The new technology will require voters to identify themselves by means of a fingerprint. State governments already keep fingerprint records of any citizen within their jurisdiction that holds a national identity card, and since ID cards are required for almost all aspects of civil life, (such as opening a bank account or applying for a job,) the fingerprints of the majority of the voting population are already on record.
In the event that the technology fails to recognize a print, the voter can be identified from a photographic database that will be updated whenever a person registers to vote. It is hoped that the technology will provide a fail-safe means of identifying voters and eliminate the risk of fraudulent voting, making these the most secure elections in the nation’s history.
The biometric technology was first tested in 2008 in the cities of Fátima do Sul (MS), João Baptista (SC) and Colorado do Oeste (RO), involving almost 50,000 voters. This year the TSE has acquired an additional 165,000 of the new machines and intends to roll out the technology to a further 51 cities, encompassing almost three percent of the total electorate. It is expected that by 2020 all of Brazil’s ballot boxes will feature biometric identity systems.
Since voting was computerized ten years ago, Brazil has earned itself a reputation as a world leader in electoral security, and over twenty countries worldwide, including the United States and the UK, have sought advice from the TSE about electoral policies and technologies.
The original electronic voting boxes, known as ‘urnas,’ were designed by Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s government and developed in 1996 by a triumvirate of companies that later became Diebold-Procomp.
The electronic collation of votes means that results can be known within hours of the close of voting, and whilst there has been some debate over the security of an electronic ballot system, the Brazilian boxes have emerged to widespread acclaim and no cases of tampering have been proven thus far.
The urnas use a complicated combination of software, hardware and elaborate encryption codes in attempts to make them inviolable. An audit by specialists at the University of Campinas pronounced the system to be, “Robust, safe, (and) reliable,” and during a three-day battery of tests performed last year on the new 2010 boxes, none of the computer science, security or engineering specialists who were drafted in as testers were able to break them.
With the new biometric technology set to virtually eliminate the incidence of people voting on behalf of others, Brazil’s October elections could prove to be the world’s fairest to date.