This is an election year and the History of Technology series will pause products and companies to talk about politics. Calm down, the deal here is not advertising: let’s tell the story of voting in Brazil until it reaches the electronic ballot box. This includes the origin, the evolution and, of course, the controversies.
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Well before the electronic
Before telling the story of the ballot box, we need to quickly talk about what voting was like in Brazil before that. The first election in national lands was on January 23, 1532, when the residents of the village of São Vicente, in São Paulo, elected the Municipal Council.
The vote was indirect, that is, they elected the people who would elect the council – which was a start.
Then we jump to 1821, when the vote is no longer separated in each municipality, but on a national basis. Free men aged 25 (or 21, married and military), literate or not, elect representatives of the Portuguese court. The vote was not secret and had no parties.
José Antônio Saraiva.
Three years later, in 1824 and already independent, the country gains its first electoral legislation, to elect the assembly that helped define the constitution of that year. In 1881, the Saraiva Law was enacted, authored by Minister José Antônio Saraiva. It brings mandatory voter registration and direct election to various positions. But there was a lot of fraud at that time, because the processes were very flawed and without much supervision.
The era of the Republic
In 1891, the date of the republican constitution, the vote for president was instituted for the first time. But that year’s election, which elected Marshal Deodoro da Fonseca, was indirect. And the period of the Old Republic, from 1889 to 1930, was known for a lot of trickery.
It was the “republic of coffee with milk”, with politicians from São Paulo and Minas Gerais alternating in office, and the so-called pen-and-ink election. This expression is the method of the time, with an open and non-secret vote, with the voter announcing the candidate to be registered by the poll official.
There was a vote of dead people, the same person voting in various sections, a vote changed at the time of writing and the so-called “halter”, which was the control of colonels and great figures of the time, who abused power and even used threats to buy votes from entire cities. Halter is that harness for controlling animals.
A voting machine
Only in 1932 the vote for women is still restricted and the Electoral Justice is created to organize elections. That year’s electoral code gave scope for the use of a “voting machine”, and Socrates Puntel in 58 assembles the first mechanical ballot box. It had two keys and rulers to show jobs. The invention is recognized, but has never been used.
In fact, that year, a metal and wooden ballot box was set up to keep the votes. Then, a canvas urn was used to do this. In fact, it was only in 1955 that the first official electoral ballot appeared, in the election won by Juscelino Kubitscheck with a bizarre functioning: the president and vice could be separate slates.
The first ballot in Brazil.
Due to the electoral periods from 1937 to 1945, which was the New State of Getúlio Vargas, and from 1964 to 1985, with the military regime, direct elections to national majority positions were prohibited. In the second case, the congress was dissolved and only two parties were allowed for several years: ARENA and MDB. The Brazilian people demanded the return of direct voting in 1983 and 84, which took a little longer to happen.
The beginning of technology
1986 marks a technology revolution in politics. This is where the unique voter registration begins, computerizing data on 70 million Brazilians. With the decentralized files from before, fraud was easy. In 1988, we have direct elections again for some municipal categories and the vote for illiterates is reinstated. Voting was still completely manual, counting was time-consuming and full of the chance of going wrong.
A vote count in a canvas ballot box.
Then we need to go to Brusque, in the interior of Santa Catarina. Judge Carlos Prudêncio had a dream of making the counting of votes faster. He started thinking about using a novelty of the time, the computer, but received a no from the Regional Electoral Court there. But he came up with the idea with the help of his brother, who owns an electronics company, and in 82 he already did an electronic vote count in the region, without testing in an election period.
In 89 he had a presidential election and in the first round Brusque became a national highlight due to a record count before all the rest of Brazil. The reason? The votes were taken by an adapted computer and innovative software. As the system was not official, the vote was also counted by the traditional process, and the result was successful.
Carlos Prudêncio and one of the used computers.
In the municipal elections of 90, another section of Brusque was now computerized even with a terminal for counting. TSE representatives, the Superior Electoral Court, went to the city of the fabrics to check the feat, but the project did not go ahead.
But when did it really start? In 94, Minister Sepúlveda Pertence’s TSE debuted the electronic processing of results with resources from the Electoral Justice. This network, which was born before the ballot box, is one of the factors that helps the quick dissemination of the victors.
The birth of the urn
A year later, a team of experts takes over the project. The chosen ones were the ninjas, baptized by the mystery of the project and by the Japanese ancestry of the majority. Their names are Paulo Nakaya, Osvaldo Imamura, Mauro Hashioka, Antonio Marcondes and Giuseppe Janino. Three of them were technicians from Inpe, the National Institute for Space Research, an CTA analyst, Aeronautics Technical Center, and a TSE server himself, Giuseppe, who is currently the current secretary of election technology there.
Giuseppe Janino and his creation.
Right away, using a PC was out of the question because it was not safe and because the Brazilian was starting to have his first machine at home. That was where the “electronic vote collector” project, or CEV, was born, which was renamed to a much better name, which is an electronic ballot box.
From the beginning he already had well-defined characteristics. It is a device that works individually and combines screen, keyboard and CPU in one machine. It needs to be very easy to use, and the number keys look like a telephone. The first model had a membrane keyboard, later replaced by a relief keyboard.
In 1996, the TSE used the electronic ballot box for the first time. There were 57 cities with the equipment for 200 thousand voters, and from now on to vote blank, there was a key, but null needed to put numbers that were not from any candidate. This 96 model was manufactured by OMNITECH and had a printer attached that printed the vote, then deposited in a plastic urn. This was abolished in 98, returned in 2002 and was replaced in 2004 by a digital record.
Evolving the method
Then in 2000, with new municipal elections, every Brazilian voter started to use this new system, which still gains support for headphones for the hearing impaired. In 2002, the ballot box leaves VirtuOS and uses Windows CE as its operating system. It was in 2009 that a Linux modification was made directly by a TSE team.
In 2005, the ballot box was used in a different situation: that of the referendum that decided on the trade in firearms and ammunition, when the ban expired.
In 2008, another new technology begins, that of biometrics, which soon becomes mandatory. In 2010 the novelty is the vote in transit for those who are not in their electoral zone. The most recent evolution is from 2018, with a smartphone app that replaces the voter’s title.
The current urn was remodeled in 2017 to be more modern, functional and modular, but the new look is gradually being implemented. It has a simple structure, with a 12-hour battery for the lack of light, as well as two memories.
And this technological voting format has spread, whether you like it or not. In 2014, about 530 thousand urns were used in Brazil, and there are 23 countries and some North American states that use a system similar to ours in national elections.
Corruption cases have been present since the time of the Empire, but the TSE guarantees that the electronic ballot box was never invaded during an election and that the device is inviolable under current security conditions. According to the agency, unauthorized software results in the blocking of the ballot box, and the court even conducts public security tests so that teams of specialists try to circumvent the digital signature.
Who disagrees is a researcher named Diego Aranha, who was from the State University of Campinas. His team has been the main critic of the TSE for years for several reasons: the proprietary software, the Confidentiality Term of the tests, the short time to access the polls, lack of transparency and so on. It is worth remembering that the Federal Supreme Court denied the printed vote as confirmation of the electronic now for 2018, which would already save some criticism.
Those responsible for discovering flaws have already had access to a system’s vote log and do not rule out that it is possible to change results or alter texts on the screen, with a very serious invasion carried out in tests in 2017. What remains is time to test these attacks on conditions that simulate the real ones. So far, all vulnerabilities found in tests have been fixed by TSE technicians.
TecMundo has already done a very complete interview with Professor Diego Aranha. Recently, he even left Brazil because of widespread disillusionment, but these enforcement efforts will not end.
And this is the history of the electronic ballot box, a technology that in one way or another is part of the history of technology and Brazil. TecMundo will not enter into the discussion of security or lack of security, here the conversation was history and evolution.
We presented the two sides, and each chooses the explanation that they think is the most correct. The fact is that this system exists and is the one in force here. If you have a suggestion for a company, product or service to become a theme here on the board, just leave the suggestion in the comments.