Security and technology of electronic voting machines
The Brazilian electoral process sets a global standard with regard to the speed of vote counting and publication of results. The success of the system is due to its computerized implementation and, most importantly, the security it provides.
Almost 138 million Brazilians will be able to vote in the October 2012 municipal elections, when 501,923 electronic voting machines will be distributed between Regional Electoral Courts (TREs) across the country. Only voters in the Federal District, Fernando de Noronha (in the state of Pernambuco) and those resident abroad will not vote in these elections.
A part of the electorate will vote using a biometric voting machine for the first time. That is to say, these voters will use a machine that scans fingerprints of the thumb or index finger of both hands. This technology ensures even more security in elections. After all, everyone has unique fingerprints and this prevents attempted fraud at the time of voting.
Another advantage of the biometric reader is that it computerizes an operational procedure: the liberation of this type of voting machine is no longer made by poll workers, but rather by reading the fingerprints of the voters themselves.
The voting machine is set up to recognize, verify and identify only the previously registered voter.
Biometric voting machines were used for the first time in only three Brazilian cities in the 2008 municipal elections. In the 2010 elections, two years later, this new type of voting machine was used in electoral districts in 60 municipalities across 23 states.
This year, in the October municipal elections, the new technology will be used by 7.7 million voters in 299 municipalities over 24 states.
The first voting machines
In the first Brazilian elections, paper ballots were marked with a vote and deposited in wax balls called “cannonballs” (in Portuguese, “pelouros”). Later, wooden, steel and canvas ballot boxes came into use until computerized voting was implemented in the year 2000. Paper ballots were no longer required and the electronic voting machines meant that all votes could be counted in just a few hours.
Currently, the Electoral Judiciary has approximately 130 mainframe computers along with 23,000 microcomputers, installed in the TREs and in the 3,024 electoral districts, and a private computer network that covers the entire country. This network connects the Superior Electoral Court (TSE) to the TREs and also connects the TREs to the electoral districts. There is also a satellite network interconnecting 375 electoral registries that are difficult for the TREs to access.
This computerization process started in 1986 with the electronic relisting of approximately 70 million voters. In 1994, the counting of votes in general elections was carried out by the Superior Electoral Court central computer for the first time.
The electronic voting machine was created in 1996 and was used in municipal elections in the same year. In that first instance of electronic voting in Brazil, one third of the electorate voted for mayors and councilors on the new electronic voting machines in 57 cities. In the following elections in 1998, two thirds of the electorate voted electronically. And in the year 2000, the project was finally fully implemented.
The electronic voting process incorporates mechanisms to ensure reliability, including cryptographic techniques such as digital signatures and hash verification that allow the authenticity of data in voting machines to be verified.
Additionally, the “layered” security devices create a number of barriers that together prevent a general attack on the voting machine.
Various audits and reviews performed over the last few years have confirmed the security of the voting machine. Its reliability was also demonstrated through two public tests in which specialists were invited to use techniques to attack the voting machine and its components with the aim of exploiting any possible system vulnerabilities. None of the tests were able to compromise the voting machine and programs.
The electronic voting machine comprises two terminals: the poll worker terminal and the voter terminal. On the first terminal, there is a numeric keypad which the poll worker uses to type the voter registration number. Three visual signals inform the poll worker if the terminal is available to the voter, if the vote has been made and if the electronic voting machine is connected to the mains or the internal battery.
The voter terminal has a numeric keypad to register the vote. On this machine, the voter must type the number of the party or candidate. There is also an LCD screen on which the voter can view the details of the chosen candidate including name, position, number, party, gender and photograph.
To see for yourself how the electronic voting machines work, try the online simulation (content in portuguese) developed by the Superior Electoral Court.
Each electronic voting machine has a service life of 10 years.
Superior Electoral Court (TSE) (content in portuguese)