Electronic voting in Brazil: is it safe or not?

The South American country celebrates 22 years of electronic elections. What can be expected from technology in democratic processes?

Electronic voting in Brazil: is it safe or not?

Brazil has one of the most modern voting systems in the world. Since 1996, the year in which this technology was included, this country was a benchmark for other democracies that experienced difficulties with electoral fraud. On October 7, it will once again put to the test the elections, for president, governor, and congress. However, in the information age, there is no technology that is 100% secure or "non-hackable".

Leer en español: Voto electrónico en Brasil: ¿seguro o no?

Recently, during DEF CON – one of the most important cybersecurity conventions in the world – 35 children between the ages of 11 and 17 were able to hack a simulation of the US voting system. Although the experiment was criticized by the Department of National Security of the United States, because it did not emulate the reliable conditions of the voting system, the precedent of the vulnerabilities of digital democracy was set. How secure are these electoral systems? Does this pose a threat to the Brazilian elections?

Beatriz Miranda, professor of international relations at the Universidad Externado de Colombia, has stated that since the technology was implemented in the electoral process in Brazil, there have never been reports of fraud. In fact, according to a column that Professor Miranda made for the newspaper El Mundo, the Superior Electoral Tribunal – one of the leading authorities in international electoral processes- has sent missions on repeated occasions to learn from the Brazilian experience.

However, in 2012, a group of researchers put under scrutiny the functioning of the Brazilian system, which under very unfavorable conditions for experimentation with its security, found that it was not safe. Among other problems, the researchers were able to track the votes, which jeopardizes the principle of confidentiality of this system. More tests were tried, but the experimental conditions became increasingly stricter, which has made it impossible to fully diagnose the shortcomings of the Brazilian system.

The role of electronic voting in Brazil has an internal logic that explains its need. This country had an electorate of just over 100 million people for 1996, the year of the implementation of the digital system. The logistics of counting votes by hand of such a large population is a challenge that a democracy should not face. The electronic vote is able to announce results just hours after the closing of the polls, in contrast to the days it could take to count the votes on paper.

Also read: Brazil: Who will be the next president?

How to mitigate, then, potential fraud in the elections in Brazil? The most widespread option is that of hybrid systems that combine both digital and paper voting. For the elections of October 7, the Superior Electoral Tribunal of this country will implement the paper system in 5% of its polls. This measure allows to compare the electronic records with the physical ones, which decreases the dependence on electronic systems and the risk of cyber-attacks.

Additionally, for these elections, international observers from the Organization of American States will accompany the electoral process in Brazil for the first time in its history.


LatinAmerican Post | Iván Parada Hernández
Translated from “Voto electrónico en Brasil: ¿seguro o no?”

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