The question that has been “breaking the head” of Brazilians is the way in which votes are counted in elections, especially now with election period and the ‘secret room’ theory. However, very different from what was published, the work takes place in two different spaces: the Department for the Totalization and Dissemination of Results and the secure room, which is located in the Department of Information Technology (STI), in a building attached to the headquarters of the High Electoral Court (TSE), in Brazil.
Twenty employees work in the Department for summarizing and disseminating results, which is not a secret location. The team develops the vote counting software and checks the functionality of the software not only on voting day, but also before the election.
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“Vote counting systems are systems that are sealed in a public ceremony on the day the ballot boxes are sealed. These systems once sealed cannot be changed. And if it changes, it is possible to identify the change because there are cryptographic control mechanisms for that. So people don’t even have the power to change the system or change the vote,” Alberto Cavalcante, head of the results collection and dissemination sector, told UOL.
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Anyone can visit the space, provided that they are properly identified at the entrance to the TSE. On election day, party members, members of the state ministry and supervisory bodies can monitor the functioning of the vote counting system. Access follows TSE security guidelines.
“Access to the room is limited by the security protocols of the court itself. The staff should go through the doorman, identify themselves. On the day of the election, the security of the court as a whole — not specifically this room — was increased precisely to prevent access to unauthorized or at least unidentified persons, and this room is in the security perimeter of the court itself.” Albert said.
The second area is a secure room with limited access and increased security, which houses 90 computers, according to TSE. Computers with sensitive data, such as the National Register of Voters, candidate registration and accountability, as well as copies of computer programs used in electronic voting machines, are stored here.
Strictly guarded, only three servers have access to the site. They even have to go through five coded doors, which only open when the previous ones are sealed. In the latter two, access occurs only after reading the fingerprints of two of these employees simultaneously. In addition, they must also pass a certain badge.
On election day, no one stays in this room, only the servers in charge of maintaining the machines enter the room if necessary. It is also necessary to use the key that is kept in another safe, also with prohibited entry.
A safe room is resistant to fire, corrosive gases, water, explosion, firearms and even small earthquakes. The space also has certificates against heat, moisture, smoke, burglary, unauthorized access, sabotage, impact, dust and magnetism. The site is also monitored 24 hours a day by at least three people. That is, it is almost impossible to penetrate there.
“The space has an air conditioning system that maintains the temperature at 18ºC and constantly controls the presence of smoke. In the event of a fire, a special extinguishing gas is released into the environment, without any damage to the computers,” says TSE.
Public and verifiable counting of votes
Even though the total number of votes is concentrated in two spaces, one of which has limited access, this does not mean that the counting of votes is not public or auditable. Counting data for each ballot box is published in a bulletin printed in each section shortly after voting closes.
The bulletin is also delivered to party inspectors. In addition, there is also a ballot box audit process that has been in place since last year and is overseen by inspection entities.