Overcoming Election Administration Hurdles
The 1994 elections in Brazil were the
most important and most comprehensive in the history of one of the world's largest
democracies. On October 3, 1994, nearly 100 million Brazilians were eligible to vote, and
82% of them turned out to vote for president, governor, senator, federal deputy and state
deputy -- an opportunity that comes once in a generation, as the presidential term is five
years, senate term 8 years (two-thirds of which were up in 1994) and other office terms
are four years.
Fernando Henrique Cardoso, candidate of the Brazilian Social Democratic Party, won the presidential race in the fist round with 54.3% of the valid vote. Since Brazilian law provides for a second round of presidential and gubernatorial elections if no candidate in those races receives at least half of the valid vote, a second round was held on November 15 to decide gubernatorial races in the 18 of 27 states where no candidate received the necessary majority. The proportional elections in Rio de Janeiro state were also re-run on November 15 in the aftermath of allegations of widespread fraud during the vote count there following October 3.
Brazil has undertaken an ambitious program of technological modernization of election administration in recent years. During a visit for the 1989 presidential elections, I learned that the state election office of Rio Grande do Sul (Tribunal Regional Eleitoral - TRE/RS) had begun a pilot project in 1983 to automate the voter registry. The goal of the project was to enable each TRE to verify the registration status of any individual in the country and thus detect attempts to obtain duplicate registrations. This successful pilot project was subsequently expanded for the 1986 national re-registration exercise. Next the Superior Electoral Tribunal (Tribuneal Superiro Eleitoral - TSE) developed new software programs -- including a phonetically-based one -- to search for existing duplicate registrations.
In early 1989, the incumbent president of the TSE had mentioned his interest in investigating the possibility of adapting for voting the optical-mark scanning system already in use in the national sports lottery. Since the method of marking the lottery ticket was widely known, even among the many illiterate voters in Brazil, this was seen as a possible means of speeding the tabulation of votes.
For the 1989 presidential elections, the TSE set up a sophisticated media center at the BrasĖlia convention center to disseminate the election results, which were being received by modem from each TRE. These were displayed on a series of monitors in the main press area, each monitor covering a large state or group of smaller states. Printed bulletins were also distributed at regular intervals.
News conferences were held in the auditorium, which had the national results displayed on the wall behind the speaker. Television networks had direct read-only access to the TSEs computer, while radio and print journalists depended on the monitors and bulletins at the convention center for their information. Ample communications resources allowed the many journalists to file stories around the clock.
In 1994, after hearing of recent technological advances, especially in the state of Santa Catarina, I traveled to the state's capital, FlorianÛpolis, for the October 3 elections, stopping in Sao Paulo and BrasĖlia to visit the TRE/SP and TSE as well.
For several municipal referenda in 1993 and 1994, the Santa Catarina TRE (or TRE/SC) had developed an electronic voting system based on a personal computer and a custom keyboard with six keys: begin, yes, no, blank vote, void ballot and end. This system greatly increased the speed with which the TRE/SC was able to announce final results. Contrary to initial expectations, the system was most popular among voters with the least formal education. The system has since been used in several two-candidate races as well, with similar results.
The 1994 elections represented another significant technological advance in Brazilian election administration in that for the first time -- with technical assistance from the United Nations Development Program -- vote totals were to be transmitted electronically from the counting centers themselves to the TREs and from there to the TSE. Brazil has a central-count system, in which the ballot boxes -- actually canvas ballot bags with a rigid, sealable top -- are transported to nearly 3,000 counting centers rather than counted at polling places. Before 1994, the electoral judge from each electoral zone was responsible for transporting the results to the TRE. On election day, Brazilian voters received two ballots: a yellow ballot for presidential, gubernatorial and senatorial races, and a white ballot for the federal Chamber of Deputies and the State Assemblies. The yellow majority-election ballots were "name on" ballots -- each presidential candidate and the gubernatorial and senatorial candidates for a given state were listed on that state's ballot. The white proportional-election ballots were "name off" ballots -- there was a line for federal deputy and a line for state deputy where the voter was to indicate either: a candidate's number or name (including nicknames and numerous phonetic variations); a party's number; or a party's acronym or name.
Brazil's PR Electoral System
Brazil, like Finland, uses a candidate-based, "open list" system for its proportional elections. Candidates run on an at-large basis in their state. Votes are counted for individual candidates and then summed to determine each party's total and the electoral quotient; seats are assigned to parties on the basis of the electoral quotient and then to candidates on the basis of their individual vote totals.
With at-large candidacies, large numbers of parties and up to 70 seats to fill in each election, there could be over 2,000 candidates in a given race. Ballots are printed on plain paper with black stripes on the back to conceal voters' intent from pollworkers when voters deposit them in the ballot box. Ballots are not numbered, but they are signed by the poll workers to discourage ballot fraud.
Voting is mandatory for those between 18 and 70 years of age unless they are illiterate, and optional for the illiterate and those over 70 and between 16 and 18 years old. The TRE/SC launched a voter education program in early 1994 targeted at those under 18 in order to encourage them to register and vote. The president of the TRE/SC felt strongly that if 16- and 17-year-olds began to think of voting as a right rather than an obligation, they would take it more seriously. The program was a great success, as the state registered 127,991 new voters in that age group, more than doubling their number.
Voters absent from their electoral domicile on election day must go to the nearest post office to purchase, fill out and mail an "electoral justification" to the electoral judge in their home district, since non-voting is punishable by a fine.
The 1994 Ballot Count
The vote count officially began the morning after Election Day when the TSE president drew the first ballots (one yellow majority-election ballot and one white proportional-election ballot) in BrasĖlia and announced their content. Given the high number of candidates, the need to count ballots separately for each race and the fact that counting teams were responsible for more than one ballot "box," counting stretched beyond October 5 in many locations.
After each ballot "box" was counted, the tally sheet was taken to the adjacent computer center for data entry and verification. The vote totals were transferred to diskette and taken to another computer for transmission to the TRE. TREs set their own schedules for disseminating results on state races, but the TSE central computer polled each TRE central computer every half-hour for updated results on all races. Results from anywhere in the country could be checked from any point in the nationwide TSE network at the level of nation, state, electoral zone or ballot "box." The TREs set aside computers in their offices for members of the inter-party committees to check results.
Santa Catarina was unique in seeking computer equipment from "members of the community" (local banks, businesses, individuals, etc.) to supplement the equipment received from the TSE and speed the process of compiling and forwarding results through the system. The computer operations staff at TRE/SC set minimum specifications for the equipment to be borrowed and directed each electoral judge to solicit enough equipment from his or her community to complete results transmission in 30 hours. As a result of this initiative, Santa Catarina was the first state to complete its vote tabulation.
Electoral authorities are now completing work on installing the nationwide network in voter registration offices. This will speed the voter registration process for citizens and increase the reliability of the voter registry. They are also looking into how to automate the voting or vote-counting process.
Ray Kennedy is Director of Information Resources at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (1101 15th Street NW, 3rd Floor, Washington, DC 20005). Prior to joining the Foundation in 1990, he was Coordinator of the Center of Brazilian Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced Studies (SAIS) from 1983-1989.
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