Bolsonaro contests election result, demands half of votes be annulled

Brasilia: More than three weeks after losing a reelection bid, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has blamed a software bug and demanded the electoral authority annul votes cast on most of the nation’s electronic voting machines, though independent experts say the bug doesn’t affect the reliability of results.

Such an action would leave Bolsonaro with 51 per cent of the remaining valid votes – and a reelection victory, Marcelo de Bessa, the lawyer who filed the 33-page request on behalf of the president and his Liberal Party, told reporters.

“I know you’re sad. Me too”: Outgoing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro addresses protesters via video on November 2. Three weeks later he has filed a request for about half of votes to be annulled.Credit:Screenshot/YouTube

The electoral authority has already declared victory for Bolsonaro’s nemesis, leftist former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and even many of the president’s allies have accepted the results. Protesters in cities across the country have steadfastly refused to do the same, particularly with Bolsonaro declining to concede.

Liberal Party leader Valdemar Costa and an auditor hired by the party told reporters in Brasilia that their evaluation found all machines dating from before 2020 – nearly 280,000 or about 59 per cent of the total machines used in the October 30 run-off – lacked individual identification numbers in internal logs.

Neither explained how that might have affected election results, but said they were asking the electoral authority to invalidate all votes cast on those machines.

The complaint characterised the bug as “irreparable non-compliance due to malfunction” that called into question the authenticity of the results.

Brazilian President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva smiles after a meeting on with at the electoral commission as part of the official presidential transition authorised by President Jair Bolsonaro after the election results were announced.Credit:Getty Images

Immediately afterwards, the head of the electoral authority issued a ruling that implicitly raised the possibility that Bolsonaro’s own party could suffer from such a challenge.

Alexandre de Moraes, minister in charge of the electoral court, said it would not consider the complaint unless the party offered an amended report within 24 hours that would include results from the first electoral round on October 2. The Liberal Party won more seats in both the Senate and Congress than any other on the first vote, but Bolsonaro himself did not secure enough ballots to avoid the presidential run-off. The second round result delivered victory to Lula with 50.9 per cent of valid votes (60.3 million votes) to Bolsonaro’s 49.1 per cent (58.2 million). More than 5.7 million voters chose to annul or void their ballot – a legal practice.

The bug hadn’t been known previously, yet experts said it also didn’t affect results. Each voting machine can still be easily identified through other means, like its city and voting district, according to Wilson Ruggiero, a professor of computer engineering and digital systems at the Polytechnic School of the University of Sao Paulo.

Electoral Court employees in Brasilia work on the final stage of sealing electronic voting machines in preparation for the presidential run-off on October 30.Credit:AP

Diego Aranha, an associate professor of systems security at Aarhus University in Denmark, who hasconcede participated in official security tests of Brazil’s electoral system, agreed.

“It does not undermine the reliability or credibility in any way,” Ruggiero he said. “The key point that guarantees correctness is the digital signature associated with each voting machine.”

Supporters of outgoing President Jair Bolsonaro protest against his defeat and ask for miliary intervention outside a military base in Sao Paulo, Brazil.Credit:AP

While the machines don’t have individual identification numbers in their internal logs, those numbers do appear on printed receipts that show the sum of all votes cast for each candidate, said Aranha, adding the bug was only detected due to the efforts by the electoral authority to provide greater transparency.

Bolsonaro’s less than two-point loss to Lula in the final contest was the narrowest margin since the country’s 1985 return to democracy. While the president hasn’t explicitly cried foul, he has refused to concede defeat or congratulate his opponent, leaving room for supporters to draw their own conclusions.

Many have been protesting relentlessly, making claims of election fraud and demanding that the armed forces intervene.

Dozens of Bolsonaro supporters gathered outside his news conference on Tuesday (Wednesday AEDT), decked out in the green and yellow of Brazil’s flag and chanting patriotic songs. Some verbally attacked and pushed journalists trying to enter the venue.

Bolsonaro spent more than a year claiming Brazil’s electronic voting system was prone to fraud, without ever presenting evidence.

Brazil began using an electronic voting system in 1996 and some election security experts consider such systems less secure than hand-marked paper ballots because they leave no auditable paper trail. But Brazil’s system has been closely scrutinised by domestic and international experts who have never found evidence of it being exploited to commit fraud.

The Senate’s president, Rodrigo Pacheco, said the election results were “unquestionable”.

Bolsonaro has been almost completely secluded in the official residence since his defeat, inviting widespread speculation as to whether he is dejected or plotting to cling to power.

In an interview with newspaper O Globo, Vice President Hamilton Mourão chalked up Bolsonaro’s absence to erysipelas, a skin infection on his legs that he said prevented the president from wearing pants.

But his son Eduardo Bolsonaro, re-elected as federal MP, has been more direct.

“We always distrusted these machines. … We want a massive audit,” the younger Bolsonaro said last week at a conference in Mexico City. “There is very strong evidence to order an investigation of Brazil’s election.”

For its audit, the Liberal Party hired the Legal Vote Institute, a group that has been critical of the current system, saying it defies the law by failing to provide a digital record of every individual vote.

In a separate report presented earlier this month, the Brazilian military said there were flaws in the country’s electoral systems and proposed improvements, but didn’t substantiate claims of fraud from some of Bolsonaro’s supporters.

Analysts have suggested that the armed forces, which have been a key component of Bolsonaro’s administration, may have maintained a semblance of uncertainty over the issue to avoid displeasing the president. In a subsequent statement, the Defence Ministry stressed that while it had not found any evidence of fraud in the vote counting, it could not exclude that possibility.


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