The health of the electronic ballot box

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By PAULO CAPEL NARVAI*

The halter vote, the pregnant ballot box and the counting map were diseases that deformed democracy. But the electronic urn enjoys good health

Index fingers mainly, but also ring and middle, right and left, of more than 156 million voters, will type keys whose numbers will elect men and women, left and right, to occupy positions in the legislative and executive powers of the Federative Republic of Brazil. Yes, there are certainly voters who, by preference or necessity, will use their little finger or thumb to exercise this right, as simple as it is powerful. A right, moreover, which, precisely because it is simple and powerful, is denied to many peoples and greatly feared by dictators and dictatorships.

It will take place on Sunday, October 2, 2022, a date that, in some way, will move the wheel of Brazilian history. I mention this to the fingers of the hands, because in these elections it will be in dispute, once again, the direction that the citizens want for the country.

With the index finger vertical and the thumb horizontal, forming the letter “L”, is Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the candidate who appears best positioned in the electoral polls for the presidency of the Republic.

With the index finger horizontal, forming a right angle with the thumb, is Jair Bolsonaro, the current occupant of the Planalto Palace, who appears in second place in the polls. His symbol, whose shape refers to a firearm, also used in 2018, indicates his disapproval of the government regime and the institutions that the Democratic State of Law created or strengthened, under the aegis of the 1988 Constitution.

Although Jair Bolsonaro's mandate originated from electronic ballot boxes and the electoral provisions guaranteed by the 1988 Charter, he has been hostile to both since well before the elections that placed him in the post of first president. It is not well known what he intends for the Republic and its institutions, and for the future of the country, because his thinking about it is rudimentary. With great frequency, he merges questions of state, with themes of government and family affairs, friends' interests and obscure goals. To transparency, a principle of public administration, established by the 1988 Constitution, Jair Bolsonaro prefers the opacity of secrecy for 100 years, decreed for matters irrelevant to the Brazilian State, such as the arrest of a former football player, or disciplinary proceedings by the Army , as revealed by the newspaper The State of São Paulo, among at least another 65 cases.

But if his ideas are obscure and the primary thought simple and confused, his acts and statements as head of state, since January 1, 2019, leave no doubt as to the way he supposes the purpose of his government should be and the exercise of presidential power. That modus operandi and its consequences on national life were recorded by Ricardo Musse and Paulo Martins in the book First years of (dis)government, launched at the end of 2021 and which, very opportunely, does not stick to the first years.

In a review of the book, published by Max Gimenes in Jornal da USP, the purpose of government is defined by Laymert Garcia dos Santos (on page 220), as “a deliberate policy of destroying institutions, decomposing the nation and deconstitutioning of Brazilian society”. At the center of this political project is “the systematic attack on the 1988 Constitution pact, which pointed to the horizon of building a modern nation that would overcome the evils of a colonial, slave-owning, patriarchal, patrimonialist, authoritarian, etc. law, political democracy, economic sovereignty and social well-being”.

Next Sunday, voters across the country will decide, with their thumb and index finger, or with the others, in electronic ballot boxes, what destination they want to give to Jair Bolsonaro: whether to reappoint him to remain in charge of the Republic or whether to defenest him . Unlike 2018, whose elections were marked by political deformations, manipulations by the corporate media and in digital social networks, judicial arbitrariness, and public insecurity that compromised its legitimacy, in 2022 the scenario is different, despite aggressions and violence that, systematically, have as victims militants who oppose, in some way, the pocketnarism, a political-ideological phenomenon that goes beyond the figure that gives it identity.

It is not the first time that, in such a complete way, this issue of the direction that citizenship wants to give the country has emerged with such historical relevance.

My first vote took place in 1974. At the time, there were no elections for governors, who were chosen by the dictatorship and “elected” indirectly in the Legislative Assemblies. I lived in Curitiba, where I studied and worked. That year, I could vote for candidates for state and federal representative and for the Senate. But he fluctuated between what he heard from those who considered that “only armed struggle overthrows the dictatorship” and, therefore, disdained voting in elections “controlled by the dictatorship” (without party freedom, there were only two parties, ARENA and MDB, whose names, in fact, they could not even contain the term 'party'), and what those and those who, valuing voting and elections, said to me, fought “for the broadest” “democratic freedoms”. I decided to go to the polls and vote. I helped to elect, for the MDB, Leite Chaves, senator, and Euclides Scalco, his alternate.

Like me that year, millions of voters throughout Brazil imposed a resounding electoral defeat on the dictatorship. Although ARENA had more votes for the Chamber of Deputies, its defeat was crushing for the Senate: 2 out of 3 voters voted for the MDB. In the 22 states that made up our federation that year, ARENA elected only six senators. And the MDB greatly expanded its presence in the Chamber, causing the dictatorship to lose an important part of the control it still held over the National Congress.

I am referring to the 1974 elections because those were, as next Sunday's are, those elections that put things back on track, from which they should never have left, had history not been what it is.

Since 1996, and especially since the municipal elections of 2000, when all voters started to vote using electronic ballot boxes, this type of equipment has made it possible to modernize and streamline the voting process and the procedures for calculating the results. In the last two decades, its use has been expanded and the technology developed, passi passu to the very development of information and communication technologies, improving various controls and increasing the security of voters and candidates. For the Superior Electoral Court, “electronic voting was a great revolution in the Brazilian electoral process”.

Certainly, even in the last century, the scenario described by Victor Nunes Leal in Coronelismo, hoe and vote, marked by the control of a “considerable lot of halter votes” by the “colonel”. The control of the base of the electoral process gave the local political leader the possibility of concentrating “in his person, without replacing them, important social institutions” among which “with or without an official character, extensive police functions, which he frequently discharges with their pure social ascendancy” or “with the help of employees, associates or henchmen”.

Nevertheless, throughout the XNUMXth century, mechanisms for tampering with voters' will persisted, expressed through multi-order cheats, practiced over long periods of vote counting, but which still began in the voter registration stage, before the polls. The precariousness of administrative controls made it possible for a person to have several electoral titles.

In the vote counting stage, any incorrectly filled ballot was reason to contest votes and ballot boxes in full, even when it was just a matter of marking an “X”, or when there was a spelling error when writing the name or number of the candidate. Yes, dear reader, dear reader, voters wrote on ballot papers; but, of course, this was often done after the polls closed, during the counting, by party “scrutineers”, and even some scrutineers, skilled in this practice when others present “slept on the spot”.

It was even worse, before voters had to fill in the ballots. There was a time when it was enough for voters to put ballots previously filled in with the names of the candidates of their choice in the ballot box. The phenomenon known as the “pregnant ballot box” dates back to this period, according to which, at the beginning of a vote, the “pregnant ballot box” was already full of votes.

In the period when pre-filled ballots were no longer accepted, the recount of votes was a boring routine, often solved only with the intervention of the police and the electoral judge – who arbitrated the conflict in their own way and, of course, according to their convictions. .

There was no effective control over the counting environments, to which not only the scrutineers had access, but also the party agents, by the dozens. If there was interest, it was very easy to start the ruckus and take advantage of the mess. As a result, frequently, some “voting map” recorded another strange phenomenon: the ballot box had received more votes than the number of registered voters in that polling station.

Electoral maps, consolidating the results of polling by sections, were filled in by a scrutineer and were very vulnerable to the convenience of whoever filled them in. Once an appeal was presented, the solution was the recount, which took time, tired those involved and increased the pressure on scrutineers. The vulnerability and evidence of fraud marked the elections held with cardboard ballot boxes, paper ballots and polls without effective control, transparency and the possibility of automation.

Em Illness as a metaphor, a book from 1978, the American writer Susan Sontag, who died in 2004, develops the notion, also present in several other writers and artists who have dealt with this theme, of illnesses as a metaphor for evil, the unwanted, what should be banned, excluded . This would apply to the plague, syphilis, leprosy, tuberculosis, cancer. Also to AIDS, the subject of another book by Sontag, published in 1989. Bolsonaro sees (or pretends to see) the electronic voting machine as a disease, a kind of plague, evil, which would be deforming the expression of the popular will, which , according to his peculiar perception of the facts, would support him by an overwhelming majority.

In the year that the Republic celebrated its first centenary, in 1989, the presidential election, won by Fernando Collor de Mello, was held without electronic ballot boxes. It is true that there were no “pregnant ballot boxes”, but it cannot be said that the calculation was exempt. The results of some states, such as Bahia, only reached the Superior Electoral Court (TSE) many days after the polls closed. I, to this day, have many doubts about who was effectively elected to the Presidency of the Republic in that election. Those urns were seriously ill.

In 2022, when Brazil celebrates the bicentennial of Independence, elections will be held using electronic ballot boxes, using the most advanced information and communication technology worldwide. The halter vote, the pregnant ballot box and the counting map were diseases that deformed democracy. But the electronic voting machine that we are going to use now is in good health., undoubtedly.

In the final stretch of the election campaign, Jair Bolsonaro noticed the migration of votes from center-right candidates to Lula, isolating him on the extreme right. Without being able to react, he made a fool of himself and, claiming “problems at the TSE”, threatened to… electronic voting machine. According to his crazy view of things, everything would be fine if it weren't for the electronic voting machine. For reasons that can be easily deduced, he viscerally rejects it, showing once again that his denialism is one of convenience. He denies the pandemic, denies the vaccine, denies the electronic ballot box, denies rights, denies the different and the difference, denies science and culture, denies the Democratic State of Law.

Deny for not having what to say to face and solve the problems that matter.

For my part, on October 2, 2022, I will use my thumb and forefinger to type two different numbers. Both will be upright. And I will do it with the hope that the majority of voters will also do this: that they use their heads to command their hands and, with their fingers, disarm the country.

Now, as in 1974, it is a question of giving a “deep no”, as Leonel Brizola would say, to the “cubs of the dictatorship” and transforming each vote into a resounding yes to the Democratic State of Law.

*Paulo Capel Narvai is senior professor of Public Health at USP. Author, among other books, of SUS: a revolutionary reform (authentic).

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