Brazil cans e-voting due to recession

Budget cuts prompt reintroduction of paper-based voting processes

Next year's elections in Brazil will be processed manually due to substantial cuts in public spending, it emerged yesterday.

This is the first time elections will be carried out through paper-based means since 2000, when electronic voting machines were used to process all votes. E-voting in Brazil was first introduced in 1996 and rolled out gradually in the following years.

Municipal elections will take place in October 2016. According to an official statement, more than R$428m ($109.6m) in resources will not be released to the Superior Electoral Court, which impacts the ability to buy the electronic voting devices and other required equipment.

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"The biggest impact [of the budget cuts] is around the purchasing of electronic voting equipment, as bidding and essential contracting is already underway and [to be concluded] by end of December, with committed spending estimated at R$200m ($51.2m)" the statement added.

While stating that the sudden announcement of the budget cuts will prevent the use of electronic voting next year, the Electoral Court added that the impossibility of buying the equipment will cause "irreversible and irreparable" damage to the electoral justice in Brazil as deadlines will not be met.

E-voting was introduced as a means to ensure secrecy and accuracy of the election process, as well as speed, as voting machines enables results to be processed in a matter of minutes within closing of the ballots. However, flaws found in the system opened up the possibility of fraud in the country's general elections last year.

According to University of Campinas professor and encryption specialist, Diego Aranha, it is "unlikely" that the budget cuts will be maintained and that elections will have to be processed manually. But if this ends up being the case, there will be a whole host of issues ahead.

"There may be a negative impact in terms of security due to the challenging nature of the problem such as scale of elections, cultural aspects, the geographical extent of the country and the heterogeneous electorate," Aranha tells ZDNet.

"However, there are several different ways to carry out elections based on paper ballots and it's difficult to have a definitive stance about this without carefully analyzing a concrete proposal for a manual process," the professor points out.

According to Aranha, another important aspect to consider in this scenario is impact on the reputation of the electoral justice in Brazil.

"It is clear that the Brazilian society interprets this as a step backwards, given the increase in time for the announcement of election results," he adds.

Updated Dec 3, 2015 2.05pm UTC, expert comments added.