Impact of Electronic Voting Machines on Blank Votes and Null Votes in Brazilian Elections in 1998 *

By Nicolau, Jairo | Brazilian Political Science Review, September 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Impact of Electronic Voting Machines on Blank Votes and Null Votes in Brazilian Elections in 1998 *


Nicolau, Jairo, Brazilian Political Science Review


Until the mid-1990s, Brazilians voted the way most of the world still continues to vote. Voters arrived at their polling stations, received an official printed ballot, went into a voting booth, wrote the names (or numbers) of their chosen candidates, and deposited their ballot into a ballot box. Despite a series of improvements that have been implemented over the years since 1985, such as voter re-enrollment in 1986 and the creation of a national list of voters, this method of voting was still associated with numerous instances of tampering with the voter's intentions. Though not generalized to encompass the whole country, fraud still occurred during the voting process, particularly during voting, counting or the tallying of votes. The solution that the Electoral Court proposed in order to do away with these fraudulent practices was to adopt a completely electronic voting system. Paper ballots, ballot boxes and the manual counting and tallying of votes were all replaced with electronic voting machines.

However, the creators of electronic voting machines did not imagine that the invention would have effects on other aspects of the voting system. Studies based on elections from 1996 and 1998, the elections in which some cities experimented with the use of electronic voting machines for the first time and others voted using traditional paper ballots, have revealed some of these effects. Electronic voting machines drastically reduced the total number of null and blank votes in the 1998 elections (FUJIWARA, 2014; HIDALGO, 2010; NICOLAU, 2002) and increased the number of party label votes in both the 1996 and 1998 elections (ZUCCO JR. and NICOLAU, 2015). The primary reason for the decline in null and blank votes is that the new voting method has facilitated the process of casting a vote, particularly among uneducated voters; for these citizens, it is easier to work with numbers than it is to write candidates' names on paper ballots. Furthermore, the keyboard on electronic voting machines has the same numerical format as telephones and bank terminals, thus ensuring familiarity for uneducated voters. The result of the shift to electronic voting meant the incorporation of millions of "new" voters into the electoral process. Three researchers have stated the following on this shift in the voting system:

The data presented on the decrease in blank and null votes in the 1998 elections for Congress and State Legislature indicates that electronic voting likely encouraged more voters to vote (thus reducing blank votes) and made voting easier (thus reducing erroneous votes and consequent null votes)" (NICOLAU, 2002, p. 292).

...voting by paper ballot was difficult for a large fraction of Brazilian voters. The introduction of electronic voting reduced these difficulties, and consequently functioned as a de facto expansion of the suffrage(HIDALGO, 2010, p. 36).

Estimates indicate that [electronic voting] reduced residual voting in state legislature elections by a magnitude larger than 10% of total turnout. Such effect implies that millions of citizens who would have their votes go uncounted when using a paper ballot were de facto enfranchised. Consistent with the hypothesis that these voters were more likely to be less educated, the effects are larger in municipalities with higher illiteracy rates (FUJIWARA, 2014. p.2).

The fact that studies on the effects of electronic voting machines have used the total number of invalid votes (the sum of blank votes and null votes) in the 1998 proportional elections-the first in which electronic voting machines were used for national offices-raises two questions: First, is there any difference when we consider null votes and blank votes separately? Second, to what extent did the decrease in observed invalid votes for federal deputy and state deputies occur in the case of executive posts (governor and president)? The purpose of this article is to answer these two questions.

The article is divided into three sections. …

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