Friday, October 29, 2004

The Myth of Unbreakable Brazilian Electronic Voting Machine

Since the problems in 2000 US elections, that lead to a recounting procedure in Florida and a huge wave of criticism over US election rules and the manual voting system, brazilian electronic voting system has been praised as a new standard to clean and fair elections all over the world.

Here I am trying to stablish what´s real and what´s hype in this matter.

I am a participant of the election process here in Brazil since 1982 -as elector - and for the third year as drafted worker. Since 2000 I have been called to work on the elections. And since 2000 we have the electronic process goin on. The first time - 2000 - I was just the first secretary, the other two times - 2002 and 2004 - as voting section president for the thirdsecond time, this year. Yes, we have elections here too!

Just let me explain the brazilian rules:
- We vote in each 4 year
- The winner is decided by numbers of votes, there´s no electorate college envolved
- We have first and second round elections: if the winner of the first couldn´t get more than 50% of all valid votes, there´ll be the second roundm with only the first and the second ranked in the first round
- Voting is obligatory for everyone over 16 and behind 75 (I think..). Those who doesn´t vote or justify no-vote are charged by legal procedures.

Bueno, let´s go ahead.
We are in just the in-between days from the first round to the second round. This year we are electing new mayors for our city. My city - Porto Alegre - is one of three cities that´s the second turn is about to happen. It will take place on 10/30. Just two days before US presidential elections...

We are using thins voting machine (see figure above) since 2000. You can "test" our electronic process using this link to a Voting Machine Simulator.

The process of electronic voting is - briefly like this:

Before the procedure:

a) We start the voting machine and print the "zero" listing, that´s prove that has no vote inside the machine or floppy before the election process is started.

The procedure:

b) The voter enters the section and presents his election ID.
c) We find his ID in election book listings. If the ID and the listing are ok we can proceed.
d) Voter signs the election book; We keep the election ID card
e) The president of the section vote (me) put the voter´s code into the terminal to authorize the vote. If the number is not there, the vote is not authorized.
f) The voter can go to the voting machine site to vote.
g) After finishing we return the voter´s ID and the election ticket.

Finishing voting process.

h) Me as president, print all the voting listings with the number of votes for each candidate, the parties overseers check and sign any of the printings copies, they can keep some of them; I took off the floppy from the voting machine, put into an envelope and delivers it to the electoral ruling department with further documents..
i) All the floppies are loaded in a locar server, from where - through some automtized FTP process - it is uploaded to the central server in Brasilia, where the sum of all votes from all floppies are done in another automated way.

From my experience and from talks with people from electoral ruling department I can realize this.

Brazilian Voting Machine is trusty from the perspective of use: very few has problems during the election day. They have made to last. If some problem appeared, we have to return to manual process
The use of floppy is somehow very weak. But they assure that all the data in it are cryptographed, and there´ll be no practical time to modify th data.. (hummm - see that the section voting president - a regular citizen - is in charge to bring all the documents + floppy in secure hands, it´s a tremendous responsability..)
The automated FTP and summing process is the most weak link of the process. This process is not audited by any of the parties overseers. Its all in the hands of technicians. You can easily created an automated routine that takes valids votes from one candidate and to summ it to another in a % basis. The personnel told that it´s safe because the technicians from the IT department have far different political views and preferences each other and they don´t let any of them commit such crimes. But they agreed with me that to rely all the confidence of the process in the hands of few technician is a high risk....

Just for historic accuracy in 1982 election there was a huge IT-robbery-vote in RIO. Former exiled governor Brizola was losing the election in votin counting numbers but not in the last polls. He went to the biggest TV network from Brazil - Globo - and dennounced it on air. The journalist laughed at him, but a investigation procedure iniciated. The day after it was proved that the IT company in charge of putting the votes into the computers was changing null votes to the Brizola´s oponent. People involved was put in jail, there was a recounting round and Brizola get elected - a bad luck of all inhabitants of RIO...

Another warning was given by the vote fraud in recent Venezuela elections. It was reported that the fraud was made in the summing process, not in the voting machine itself , but just the by the way described above. Carter didn´t care for it. The process of auditing a totally automatized voting process must be very different from the old process. Nobody is prepared for it.

My final thought on this is: if the election results differs far from last polls aired, take care, my dear elector. Someone is trying to steal the election....
Machines are trusty, men are not. Our vote could not be guaranteed by only a few technicians without an extensive and detailed oversee process by the authorites, people and parties.
And recountinf capabalities...

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