Brazilian voters went to the polls Sunday amid claims, mostly made by incumbent far-right president Jair Bolsonaro and his supporters, that the country’s voting system was likely to fall prey to fraud. Brazil was a pioneer in the use of electronic voting, switching from paper ballots for the first time in municipal elections back in 1996. With election polls in the days running up to the election showing Bolsonaro falling behind opposition candidate and former leftist president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the president has continued to stoke fears about the fairness of electoral technology.
In the months leading up to the election, Bolsonaro made vague allegations that voting machines were prone to fraud, claiming that they were “easy to rig” by hackers.
Though he defended electronic voting in 1993, Bolsonaro claimed to have been cheated by the electronic ballot boxes in 2018, after not achieving a first-round victory. He continued to do so even after he went on to win the presidential election.
Bolsonaro has not been able to provide proof to back up his allegations, and has said as much. “There is no way to prove the elections were or weren’t fraudulent,” he admitted in July. Nevertheless, both Bolsonaro and his supporters have continued to make claims about future fraud in the lead-up to the elections.
Meanwhile, evidence in support of electronic voting has come from the government’s own internal audits as well as external investigations conducted by the Accounts Court Union (TCU), the Federal Police, and the Brazilian army. The reviews showed electronic voting booths were unhackable, since they are not connected to the internet. After three rounds of audits, the TCU concluded that “first, electronic voting machines are auditable. Second, electronic voting machines are reliable. Third, electronic voting machines are transparent.”
Brazil’s Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) launched four apps prior to Sunday’s Election Day in a bid to increase trust in the process and make access to voting easier.
The e-Título app is a poll station locator that also stores its users’ electronic voter IDs. Boletim na Mão and Resultados are both poll-tracking apps — the first by geographical area and the second by candidate results. Finally, Pardal can be used to alert authorities of illegal electoral activities such as voter fraud and political campaigning, which is not allowed on election day.
Rest of World spoke to voters at a polling station in Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana. The neighborhood’s mixed social, racial, and ideological demographics make it an ideal location to survey. While Copacabana is majority white and Bolsonaro rallies have been held there, it is also home to several working-class, Lula-supporting communities.
Among the dozens of voters Rest of World spoke to, younger voters were more prone to trust the TSE’s apps than older voters, while Bolsonaro supporters tended to be more suspicious of technology in elections than Lula backers. Overall, trust in the apps and the electronic voting system was determined by political preference over virtually any other affiliation.
The following interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Selma Rodrigues de Oliveira Rosa, 53, actor, nurse, and businesswoman
According to what I read in the newspaper, they seem to have regulated the electronic booths. I believe it will be a fair and clean election. The machines start with zero votes and there is a whole inspection process done by all candidates. They are all able to go and inspect the machines, so I trust the electronic ballot box.
Francisco Eudes Sousa Vasconcelos, 49, lawyer
I think technology has affected Brazilian elections positively. Brazil’s got the fastest election results. Voting was super smooth, fast. There’s no way to go back to what we used to do, vote on paper, in the past. Everything is electronic these days.
I also have all the electoral apps. I like them; you can access information and it’s clearer. Only those who don’t want to be informed don’t seek out information. And you can trust these apps because they come from official institutions. It’s much easier to find out where their information came from. You can link it back to good sources. If we only got information from WhatsApp groups, we wouldn’t know where the information came from.
Natália Oliveira Perles, 23, university student
In the last election, technology had a boom, it was a surprise, we were not prepared for fake news, and I think this time, we are dealing a little better with that, with many caveats — we are no longer new to this scenario, we are more aware of what is happening, and what the issue is. I know fake news is still being spread, but we are not being taken by surprise.
Carlos Viggiano Junior, 59, policeman
We can’t audit the vote. In my opinion, the vote should be in writing, so I don’t trust the electronic voting machine even a little. The electoral courts are completely corrupted. Voting was quick, but it was too quick. They should have left the candidate’s photo on the screen for longer. I felt the electronic booths were made in bad faith.
Jansen Fernandes, 30, doctor, and Rafael Sampaio Fraquim, 41, public servant
I have a habit of following the national electoral court, the TSE. I think the apps are easy to use. They’ve got easy to understand layouts. I helped friends download it precisely because they said they lost their voting document. I think the e-Título app makes voting easier — it shows you where your polling station is, it’s got your photo which is an additional tool allowing people to vote.
I believe in technologies, I believe that the TSE is a serious government body, and that the audits that are carried out are very rigorous. I do not accept whoever discredits the electoral process in Brazil.
Arlete Andrade de Queiroz Leite, 94, lawyer
I don’t think technology is affecting our elections. I heard about the apps but I didn’t download them because I don’t know how to use them. I didn’t do it because I’m afraid of doing it wrong. I just voted.
Itala Sandra Del Sarto, 72, psychologist
I heard about the apps from the TSE but I’m not using them because I have trouble with computers. I’m well-informed about how the elections work. The TSE sent an email about it and I found it interesting, but I haven’t downloaded the e-Título or anything yet. It doesn’t feel familiar to me. I saw we can still vote with our photo IDs and the voting document, so I came to do my civic duty with my ID.
I trust the equipment, I don’t trust those who count the votes so much.
Flávia Vitória Cardoso Garces, 28, psychologist, and her friend Ana Caroline Vianna, 21, designer
I voted with the e-Título app. It was super easy, I logged in easily, I voted easily, I had no problems whatsoever, no complaints. And I trust the electronic voting system because there’s no evidence that proves it’s unreliable, right?
Carlos Magno de Jesus da Silva, 31, administrative assistant, and Tiago de Jesus Severo, 32, builder
The electronic voting system makes me feel safe. Everything is electronic nowadays, it gives me that confidence. And yes, I am using the apps. For now, everything is fine, but we’ll see when the votes are counted, right?