During the 1996 municipal elections, some Brazilian cities made their voting population cast their vote differently from how they had been traditionally voting in the country. Instead of the old ballot paper used for decades, the voters of these cities were summoned to try the electronic voting machine similar to a banking terminal, which required you to enter a sequence of numbers in order for your vote be considered in the count. Four years later, the electronic voting machine was extended nationwide. In 2000, Brazil held the first election in the world in which all voters used the electronic voting machine.
The electronic voting machine brought two important changes to the Brazilian representative system. The first was the end of corruptive acts that happened during the voting process. In the previous voting model, vote tampering would occur the moment a vote was cast. Voters would fill out the ballot papers in the place of others, especially during the time of the election count, when the votes and reports with the tally results would be altered in order to favor certain candidates. With the end of the ballot paper and manual verification, fraud during the voting process was terminated. Obviously, this does not mean that fraud does not happen "before voters arrive at the ballot box." Even today, denunciations of vote pairing are common in the outskirts of big cities and small towns.
Another decisive change promoted by the electronic ballot was the reduction of invalid votes, particularly in elections for the legislature. Unlike other democracies, such as India and South Africa, Brazil never bothered to create a ballot that was friendly for voters with low education skills. In a country with a high number of voters with low literacy skills, having to write the name of the candidate was a decisive factor behind the high rates of annulled votes, since ballot papers were constantly filled out inaccurately. In the early 1990s the rate of invalid votes for the Chamber of Deputies in Brazil was amongst the highest in the world. The electronic voting machines changed this scenario, and were now able to consider votes of millions of previously uncounted voters.
The objective of this paper is to analyze the effects of the electronic voting machine in the reduction of invalid votes in Brazil. To do this, it compares the results of three elections. The 1994 elections, the last in which all voters cast votes using ballot paper; the 1998 elections, when some voters voted using the electronic voting machine and others used the ballot paper; and the 2002 elections, the first in which all voters cast their votes using the electronic voting machine to elect national office positions.
To get an idea of the volume of voters who now have their preference counted, there is a simple exercise worth doing. Imagine that in the 2002 elections, the percentage of invalid votes for Federal Deputy was 42%, the same as the 1994 race, the last election in which voters voted exclusively on the ballot paper. That would mean 39.8 million invalid votes. In fact, there were 7.2 million. Meaning there was a difference of 32.6 million votes. This is an impressive figure when compared to the electorate of other democracies. As a parameter, in the 2010 election in the UK, 30 million voters turned up to vote.
The introduction of electronic voting was a fundamental step in the improvement of electoral institutions in Brazil. In general, we can say that it had an effect on the vote of the country's lower income voters. Firstly, by eliminating electoral fraud still happening in the poorest areas of large cities and small towns, the new model of voting began to register votes in a more effective way. Secondly, by facilitating the voting process for voters with low education skills, the electronic voting machine has drastically reduced the number of invalid votes, permitting that millions of voters be incorporated into the political process.
The option of using a numeric keypad and the assurance that the photo of the candidate chosen by voters would appear on the screen so that the number of their candidate is entered are two fundamental characteristics that facilitated the vote of voters with low education or illiterate.
The simplicity of the electronic voting machine, its security (which is perfected with every election) and the speed of calculation make the voting model created during the late 1990s in Brazil an important contribution towards the improvement of democracy in the country. In the nineteenth century, Australia invented the secret ballot and the official ballot, which were key to making the most legitimate and fair elections in the next century. Brazilian electronic voting machines can easily be an option for new democracies; which still face the challenges of having large numbers of illiterate voters and are still struggling with high numbers of electoral fraud.