Page last updated at 09:17 GMT, Wednesday, 1 October 2008 10:17 UK

How Brazil has put an 'e' in vote

Digital Planet
Sao Paulo Special
BBC World Service

Brazil's electronic ballot box
Electronic voting has made life easier for people in Brazil
This week the BBC World Service's Digital Planet programme is in Brazil.

Here the show takes a look at the country's pioneering use of electronic voting and how it has changed the way officials are elected.

Brazilians have been voting electronically for more than a decade and with local elections scheduled for 5 October, thousands of voting machines are being deployed to schools and libraries around the country.

Voting is compulsory in Brazil and around 120 million people will be choosing their local governor and mayor in the elections.

Digital Planet producer Michelle Martin, accompanied by listener Gus Neto found out how the system worked.

"We introduced the digital ballot in 1996 and by the year 2000, 100% of our elections were conducted using this system," said Antonio Esio from the Regional Electoral Office in Sao Paulo.

"Nowadays we have 450,000 digital ballot boxes in Brazil," he said. "We are making more each year because the number of voters is increasing around 6% every election."

Easy interface

The machine has made voting easy for Brazilians and, it is claimed, has reduced the number of errors that crop up when ballot papers are used.

To make the voting machines easy to use a numeric keyboard was chosen as the main interface - something familiar to anyone who has made a phone call.

"It's quite easy to use because voters only need to type in a number for the candidates and they can also see the picture of the person they're voting for," said Mr Esio.

"So this system helps illiterate voters, because they can identify their candidate by a number, and that was a great advance," he added.

Urubu-Kaapor tribesmen, AP
Brazil's mix of cultures has made e-voting a success, say Brazilians.
"You key in the number from your voting card and then make sure that the name that comes up matches my name," said Gus Neto, a regular listener to Digital Planet and a native of Sao Paulo.

The machine displays a list of candidates with a picture and voters then choose who they want to vote for by typing in the relevant number and pressing the green "confirm" button on the machine.

"You then get a stub that confirms that you voted", added Mr Neto.

The votes are recorded on two flash cards, similar to ones used in digital cameras and to make sure the system is secure, each card is coded so that it only works in one specific ballot box.

When voting has finished the cards are removed and the data is transmitted back to the Regional Electoral Office, where votes are counted in just six hours

"We are always very careful at not having any relation between the voter and his vote," said Mr Esio. "I am not able to identify the vote."

Pioneering machine

Brazil's first electronic ballot boxes were created by Carlos Rocha - an engineer called from electronics firm Samurai.

Inside the digital ballot box was a very simple computer, Mr Rocha explained.

UK polling station, BBC
Digital voting leads to fewer errors in counts, say its backers
"The key requirements were that they had to be highly reliable, easy to use, low cost and run from batteries and have a 10 year life-span," he said.

When the system was first launched, the government promoted them via prime time TV adverts. It also puts machines in schools and other public areas so Brazilians could experiment with them.

The government also set a challenge to ensure that the cost did not exceed $1000 (560) per machine.

"Today we can run a voting machine for 20 hours with basic batteries and that's for a country where you are taking voting machines into the forest for the Indians to vote," said Mr Rocha.

Melting pot

Although the system hasn't been immune to criticism, Mr Rocha believes that the nature of Brazilian society is what has made it a success.

"Brazil is a big melting pot with people from all over the world, so we are used to differences," he said.

Questions about the machines' accuracy and independence have been raised but supporters of the system say the design of the machines allays such fears.

"The voting machine is isolated, it's not connected to any communication, so there's no external hacking," said Mr Rocha.

Overseeing the electoral process Brazil has created "Electoral Justice" that is independent from congress, political parties and the ruling government.

Fingerprint, PA
The latest machines are fitted with fingerprint readers
"This is a very independent system which has judges, as well as lawyers that have knowledge of the system," said Mr Rocha.

The success of the system has led to a series of improvements.

"There is a fingerprint identifier device that the Electoral Justice is introducing now," said Mr Esio.

"In addition to the data from the voter - date of birth, voting area, etc, we will also have the fingerprint identification", he added.

For the moment Mr Rocha feels that Brazil has the best system in the world.

"The main value of the system is that our society believes in it," he said.

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