Authored by Anna Lee Mraz Bartra – Global Exchange and Peninsula 360 Press
Elections in Brazil are tomorrow on October 2nd, 2022.
While President Jair Bolsonaro’s antidemocratic narrative (see this analysis) has attacked the Brazilian electoral system, different political experts interviewed by Peninsula 360 have explained that this is a very remote possibility.
Carolina Botelho, a specialist in Brazilian politics from the Berkeley Center for Latin American Studies, with whom we had the privilege to speak in person in the streets of Rio de Janeiro, says, “It is a way of doing elections that we didn’t do before. With more security. We have to remember that in the past, elections could be subject of fraud, but not today”.
The democratic system has incorporated changes since 1994 to insure that very Brazilian could vote with ease and security. The Brazilian experience since then has been characterized by a rapid transition to universal electronic voting. This technology ensures that votes on the ballots cannot be modified to give preference to one or another candidate.
Tomorrow, 156 million Brazilians are expected to go to the polls to elect a new president, governors, and hundreds of members of federal and state legislative bodies; as well as state deputies for the country’s 26 states plus the federal district will also be chosen.
There is a very high degree of popular trust in the electoral system in Brazil.
Electronic ballots are regarded as innovative technology. “In Brazil, since these ballots were installed thirty years ago, there has been no evidence of fraud,” Botelho explains. She holds a Ph.D. in political science from IESP / UERJ, a master’s degree in sociology and anthropology from UFRJ, and a degree in social sciences from UFRJ.
One of the main characteristics of the Brazilian move toward electronic voting has been the large role played by the Tribunal Superior Eleitoral (TSE) – the institution responsible for managing elections, advocating for and implementing electronic voting – and the relatively little role played by civil society and oversight groups until recently.
Voting in Brazil is obligatory for anyone between the ages of 18 to and 70, unless you have a good justification for not going to the ballots on Election Day. The person’s name is on a list, the list is compared with the person’s ID, then they are given access to the electronic ballot.
Ballot machines were created to be small and light so they can be carried anywhere, even in remote places in the Amazon. And, if by any means someone were to be able to hack a machine, it would be just that, one machine.
In past elections, cohersive groups had tried to manipulate people’s vote by asking the person for a photograph of their vote. To avoid this, mobile phones or cameras are not allowed in the voting polls.
Bolsonaro’s narrative throughout the elections has been anti-democratic and has directly verbally attacked Justice Alexandre de Moraes, of the Federal Supreme Court, on several occasions stating that the electoral system is not to be trusted and that, according to Bolsonaro, fraud could happen in Brazil.
However, political scientist and expert on Brasilian elections, Adrian Albala, professor at the Institute of Political Science in Brasilia, states that “we have to remember that the current president [Bolsonaro] and his sons were elected through the same democratic system that he criticizes today”.
The president tries to discredit a powerful democratic resource Brazilians have worked for many decades to put in place. Bolsonaro was elected with the same system in the past elections. “This is, to say the least, contradictory and forgotten,” continues Botelho.
The poll tendency clearly marks that Bolsonaro is restricting himself to a very specific group, basically his base, and from there, he is not able to reach out to other sectors of the population. There are very few chances of re-election.
The possibility of Bolsonaro winning the election cannot be ruled out, says Albala. However, opinion polls indicate that the president is on track to lose the election and, as such, is building a narrative of fraud that, should Bolsonaro lose, could detonate violence by his supporters, many of whom are military, police, and even armed civilians.
According to Celso Sanchez from the UniRio, Bolsonaro’s discourse, amplified on social networks by his supporters, not only questions the Brazilian electoral system – the same one that brought him to the presidency – but also encourages electoral violence, particularly towards historically marginalized sectors of the population, against whom Bolsonaro has strongly attacked during his mandate: indigenous people, Afro-descendants – called quilombolas -, women and LGBTTTIQ+.
It is dangerous for people to validate Bolsonaro’s intentions, his narrative and the electoral dynamic he is trying to set in motion, Botelho says we can perceive this has more to do with creating a solution for him in case of losing the elections. “Until this moment, there is no evidence of fraud in the elections. What we do have evidence of, until now, is that the chances of reelection for this president are very low, and have gotten worse over time”.
“Brazil has a very weak president, electorally speaking,” says Albala. Some research shows that a wave of disinformation, hatred, and racism has permeated during these elections.
According to Sanchez, Brazil is experiencing a “dramatic moment of violence.” Following the 2018 murder of black councilwoman Marielle Franco in Rio de Janeiro, many black women across the country followed her legacy of social activism. However, Sanchez denounces, political violence against these activists, and even with academics working with them, has increased in the current electoral context: “threats are received almost daily.”
Botelho’s analysis is that Bolsonaro may be trying to set something in motion to resolve a possible loss in the future election. Similar to what Donald Trump generated during the United States elections in 2020, and January 6th raid on the Capitol. “This is probably why Bolsonaro is to discredit the electoral system” Botelho explains.
The electoral justice system has responded firmly to his accusations and has proven to the population that fraud is not possible, and that Bolsonaro’s antidemocratic narrative is an attempt to gain some political advantage in case he is defeated.
Brazilians will vote tomorrow, however, the possible outcome for this election are pieces of a puzzle that will only reveal itself in time, and pieces that -some- have already been set in place. How will Bolsonaro react to a possible defeat? More importantly, how will Bolsonaro’s supporters respond? Will the wave of violence and misinformation continue after the elections?