Brazil investigates online voting

A demo in the upcoming elections will inform the potential future adoption of the remote model
Written by Angelica Mari, Contributing Writer

The Brazilian government is considering the adoption of online voting, in a move that aims to phase out the current electronic voting machine set-up and generate savings.

The Superior Electoral Court (TSE) has released a request for proposals from technology companies and the firms will be able to demonstrate potential solutions in the upcoming municipal elections in November. The demonstration will be carried out with a sample of voters from the cities of São Paulo, Valparaiso de Goiás and Curitiba, who will choose fictitious candidates online. The demo results should inform the discussions over a potential change in the electoral process.

According to the TSE, the investigations over a potential adoption of online voting aim to find a more modern approach for the electronic voting system to make the process of choosing elected representatives "even more democratic and accessible election for the entire population, in addition to being cheaper and more efficient."

"The electronic voting machines have so far proved to be an excellent solution, but they have a high cost and require periodic replacement. Even if, at first, voters continue to have to attend polling stations to protect confidentiality, saving hundreds of millions of reais with the substitution of ballot boxes already represents a great gain ", said TSE president Luís Roberto Barroso.

According to TSE, the solutions offered by the companies participating in the demonstration should make it possible to identify the voter and count their vote only once, even though it should be possible to vote other times during the voting day. They should also guarantee the secrecy of the vote and have mechanisms for transparency and auditing.

Another challenge to be considered and that tech companies will need to try and reduce or circumvent is the issue of digital exclusion in Brazil and the population's access to equipment such as smartphones and tablets.

Although private companies will be considered for the development of the innovations to the electoral process, TSE noted that the entire electoral process will remain under the total control of Brazil's Electoral Justice. Companies interested in taking part in the demonstration should express interest between September 28 and October 1. The process will involve technical meetings with the TSE team, which should take place in early October.

Brazil is one of the only countries in the world where the voting process is entirely electronic. E-voting was introduced in 1996 as a means to ensure secrecy and accuracy of the election process. The system underpinned by about 455,000 voting machines currently in place enables results to be processed within a matter of minutes within the closing of ballots.

However, the Brazilian machines, which are based on the Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) model, do not produce physical proof that the vote has been recorded. This means there is a constant danger of large-scale software fraud, as well as other non-technical types of tampering that could be perpetrated by former or current electoral justice staff and go totally undetected.

A team of information security professionals led by Diego Aranha, an award-winning computer science academic and encryption expert, worked for six years to prove that the Brazilian voting system was not secure, and could demonstrate several vulnerabilities after scrutinizing the machines at tests held by the TSE.

Despite the results of the tests by the academics, TSE refused to introduce voter-verified paper trails in 2017 for the elections in the following year, on the basis that vote secrecy would be compromised if electoral justice staff at voting locations saw the printed receipt.

Disillusioned with the "completely dysfunctional state" of the country after the TSE decision, Aranha left Brazil to take up a teaching job at Aarhus University in Denmark. Last year, he has discussed the potential of blockchain in the electoral process at a presentation in Aarhus and concluded that is not the answer when it comes to making voting more secure.

Brazil's authorities have continuously reiterated the electronic voting system is completely fraud-proof.

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