24 January 2004

For Brazil Voters, Machines Rule

While Diebold's touch-screen voting machines cost an average of $3,000 in the United States, the urnas (which have no touch screen) cost $420 on average, according to Justica Eleitoral, the nation's electoral commission. Buying machines in large quantities lowers their cost, authorities said. The two manufacturers, Unisys and ProComp, won public bids to make the machines, a spokesman said.

Brazil, which has alternated between military dictatorships and democracy since the fall of the imperial monarchy in 1889, has a long history of election fraud. A judge in this state of cows and grains was killed for contesting the results in one local election. Pre-urnas elections were easier to rig, said Daniel Wobeto, chief of technical operations at the electoral commission in Rio Grande do Sul. 'Paper ballots were stuffed in canvas pouches, and people would switch ballots from one candidate's pile and put it in another pile,' he said.

First introduced in some precincts in 1996, urnas were used in all precincts in 2000. Voting officials took them on road shows, setting them up in bus and train stations and banks so Brazilians could have easy access to them.

Voters punch in digits for their candidate of choice (lists with numbers that match candidates' names are available at precincts). The name and a picture of the candidate appear after the number is punched in. Voters confirm their votes by pressing a green button.

There's no turning back once the green button has been pressed -- one of the system's drawbacks, said Wobeto.

Before elections, machine software is posted on the Internet, Wobeto said. Voting data on machines is stored on a floppy disk inserted at the back of each machine box and sealed inside with tamper-evident tape.

Brazil can do it. The Australian Capital Territory can do it. Why can't sophisticated corporations with the most advanced technology in the world do it?

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