How does the Brazilian electronic voting machine work? – Technoblog

In election years, people tend to divide their attention between the election and the wars on social networks. However, another owner of voters’ attention is the electronic voting machinewhich has followed the Brazilian electoral process since 1996. Understand how the electronic voting machine works and the way in which it streamlined the electoral process in Brazil.

electronic voting machine
Electronic voting machine (Image: Vitor Pádua / Tecnoblog)

The electronic ballot box can be seen as a computer produced with customized hardware to run the election program, developed by the Superior Electoral Court (TSE).

Electronic voting machines and the electoral process

The preparation of electronic voting machines takes place long before elections at public events in TREs or Electoral Offices. These events are open to the press, political parties and the Public Ministry.

During the electoral period, when they arrive at the polling places, the polls are connected to the electricity grid or to generators, in cases where there is no electricity grid available. The distribution of the devices can take more than five days in distant places in the Amazon and even more than a week in places abroad.

At the end of voting, the machine prints the Ballot Box, a detailed, printed record of all the votes entered.

The voting data of each ballot box is saved in an encrypted form on a memory card with digital signature and delivered in a sealed envelope to the members of the Electoral Board.

How information reaches the Electoral Court

The information regarding the votes reaches the Electoral Justice through an exclusive communication network of the Electoral Revenue that transmits data from the Electoral Zone, to the data centers of the Regional Electoral Court of the state. In the case of remote places, data transmission is done by satellite.

In TREs, data goes through a series of security certifications before being totaled. The digital signature is checked to certify that the data were actually generated by the ballot box of the polling station to which it should belong. After adding up the data from all the ballot papers, the TREs total the votes and publish the results.

Security: is the electronic voting machine reliable?

Since 2009, usually in the year before the elections, the electronic voting machine has been submitted to the Public Security Test (TPS), a series of tests carried out with the collaboration of experts, aiming to find problems and weaknesses in the polls and solve them. The objective is to make the electoral process more secure and auditable. The last edition of the TPS was made in November 2021.

To prevent intrusions, electronic voting machines have two main security mechanisms: digital signature e digital summary.

  • Digital signature is an encryption method used so that the integrity of a digital file can be verified. In electronic voting machines, the feature serves to confirm that the program executed on the devices was not intentionally altered, lost its original characteristics due to a recording or reading problem. If the digital signature is valid, it means that the device remains intact as generated by the Superior Electoral Court;
  • digital summary, also known as a “hash”, has a function similar to that of a check digit. It uses a public algorithm to calculate the hashes of all files and then this data is published on the TSE portal in order to maintain the transparency of electronic voting machines and the electoral process.

As the electronic voting system’s security system works in layers, protection barriers are created at different levels. For this reason, when the voting system is attacked, it activates a domino effect that ends up crashing the device, making it impossible to generate valid votes.

The electronic voting machine for the 2022 elections

How a Brazilian electronic voting machine works - UE2020 electronic voting machine
Electronic voting machine model UE2020 (Image: TSE/ Reproduction)

The electronic voting machine for the 2022 elections was named UE2020 and presents some novelties in relation to the UE2015 model.

  1. Its System on Chip (SoC) processor is eighteen times faster than the 2015 model;
  2. Lithium Iron Phosphate type battery requires less maintenance costs;
  3. The use of a flash drive as a storage unit offers greater logistical flexibility to TREs;
  4. Battery life is expected to last for the lifetime of the urn;
  5. The desk clerk’s terminal now has a fully graphic screen, without a physical keyboard, and with a touch-sensitive surface;
  6. The model has an improved keyboard, with keys with double contact factor, which allows the keyboard itself to accuse an error, in case there is a bad contact or a key with an intermittent short circuit;
  7. The new electronic voting machines have new accessibility features such as improved voice synthesis to make it easier for people with visual impairments to understand and the inclusion of a Libras interpreter on video to help people with hearing impairments.

Both models will coexist as long as the most recent model does not occupy the entire electoral park in the country.

Hardware and curiosities

Since 1996 the electronic voting machine has changed a lot. The UE96, the first electronic voting machine model, had two floppy disk drives. Yes, floppy disks. Many Gen Z voters probably never interacted with this artifact of the past.

How a Brazilian electronic ballot box works - 1996 electronic ballot box
Electronic voting machine model UE96 (Image: TSE/ Reproduction)

The urn’s processor was a 40Mhz 386SX with 2 MB of RAM. The set also had a dot-matrix printer. If you are over 30, you should remember them and their pleasant melody.

For those who are curious, it is worth accessing the retrospective page of the electronic voting machine made by the TSE to know all the models.

How many electronic voting machines are there in Brazil?

According to information from the TSE in 2021, Brazil has an electronic park of 577,125 pieces of equipment.

Is the electronic voting machine auditable?

Yes. Before voting, the polls go through several public auditing events and after the election results are published, it is possible to check whether the data are the same as those printed on the Ballot Boxes in each polling station.

With information: TSE 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

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