Where does my vote go after I fill in the ballot box?

Only at 17:00 on election day, when voting ends, each ballot box will electronically count the votes cast during the day.

Photo: Reuters / BBC News Brazil

You reach the electronic voting machine, enter the number of your candidate and confirm. What happens to your voice after that?

Immediately, your choice will be recorded in the Digital Vote Register, a compartment inside the ballot box that stores, in random order, each of the votes registered in that machine.

Right now, it’s like putting your paper ballot in an old canvas urn. Or like pouring a drop of water into a glass. It is impossible to know who poured every drop — or every vote — into the ballot box.

Only at 5:00 p.m. on election day, shortly after the polls close, will each ballot box electronically count the votes cast during the day.

When the calculation is finished, the urn prints the results in at least five copies, the so-called urn newsletters. One of them is at the entrance to the polling station. If it is a school classroom, where many Brazilians usually vote, for example, the bulletin will be posted on the door. Other copies are retained by the Electoral Court and delivered to inspectors of political parties. You will also be able to access the ballot boxes online, in real time.

But that’s not the final destination of your voice. Each survey also saves the results to a flash drive. This flash drive will travel to a secure transfer point, where it will enter the private data network of the High Electoral Court (TSE) and end up in the supercomputers in Brasília. These machines will tally the results of more than 500,000 electronic voting machines.

Your voting journey can unfold in many ways. Electoral Justice Motoboys, for example, can pick up flash drives from a school and take them to the voter register, where the material will be transmitted over a private network. This transfer can also be performed by a computer connected to a VPN, i.e. a private network at the polling station itself. In remote areas, the satellite phone will include a computer that will transmit the data. Shared internet, the one you have at home, is never used.

From 17:20, more or less, the first votes are already starting to arrive at TSE.

In Brasília, your vote will enter the supercomputers along with all the other data at your polling station.

These powerful computers are the only ones with the keys to read all the encryptions that polls use to protect votes. They know exactly where each ballot box is from. If there is any doubt or suspicion, the data shall not be accepted and a recount may be done in the original ballot box.

In other words, it is useless for someone to think that they can use another pendrive, other than the original one, and transfer data that does not correspond to the votes entered in the ballot box. This is because the supercomputers know how to recognize and read the encryption that corresponds to each drive used in each of the more than 500,000 urns. If they received unnecessary data, the supercomputer would discard it, sound a warning, and perform a recount in an urn whose data on disk was inconsistent.

Therefore, the chance of a successful fraud attempt is zero, according to the Supreme Electoral Court, contrary to the view propagated by current President Jair Bolsonaro (PL), who is seeking re-election.

It is worth recalling that what prompted the use of electronic voting machines in Brazil in 1996 was the high volume of paper ballot fraud.

“A blank paper would come and at the moment of opening, someone would write something, some scribble that would already become a vote. There were people who even put graphite under their fingernails to open the blank paper, then I would scribble a number there and it would already become a vote, a taking away cell… I mean, it was a party about the issue of fraud,” Giuseppe Dutra, former technology secretary at the TSE, told BBC News Brasil.

The supercomputers are housed in a cold, brightly lit room, monitored 24/7 and have a security level of 5. That means you have to go through five different doors to get inside. Biometrics of at least two people are required to open the back door. Inside, the noise of machinery is intense, and the air is drier than usual. Smoke detectors remain activated to ensure processors processing billions of data can operate at maximum power and safely.

No one stays in this room. And the votes in the TSE are not counted by a human being. During the counting, the technical team and the party inspectors are all in the adjacent room, monitoring the operation of the computers through the camera monitors and observing the efficiency indicators that the machines give.

Every ten or 15 minutes, the supercomputers produce a new round of partial results, as they receive more and more poll results across Brazil every second. In a few hours, by the number of votes counted, it can be determined who won the dispute. It is the end of the campaign that you — and millions of other Brazilians — started hours earlier, when you wrote your choice in the ballot box.

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