Fri. Dec 2nd, 2022

More than three weeks after losing re-election, President Jair Bolsonaro on Tuesday blamed a programming error and asked electoral authorities to cancel votes on most of Brazil’s electronic voting machines, even though independent experts said the error did not affect the reliability of the results.

Such action would leave Bolsonaro with 51 percent of the remaining valid votes — and a re-election victory, Marcelo de Bessa, the lawyer who filed the 33-page request on behalf of the president and his Liberal Party, told reporters.

Electoral authorities have already declared victory for Bolsonaro’s nemesis, leftist former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and even many of the president’s allies have accepted the results. Protesters in cities across the country have steadfastly refused to do the same, especially with Bolsonaro’s refusal to agree.

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Liberal Party leader Valdemar Costa and an auditor hired by the party told reporters in Brasilia that their assessment showed that all the machines dating from before 2020 – nearly 280,000 of them, or about 59% of the total number used in the second round of the 30th election. October – they do not have individual identification numbers in internal diaries.

Neither explained how that might have affected the election results, but said they asked the electoral body to cancel all votes cast on those machines.

The complaint characterized the error as an “irreparable nonconformity due to a defect” that called into question the authenticity of the results.

Immediately afterwards, the head of the electoral body issued a decision that implicitly indicated the possibility that Bolsonaro’s own party could suffer from such a challenge.

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Alexandre de Moraes said the court would not consider the lawsuit unless the party offered within 24 hours an amended report that would include the results of the first round of elections on October 2, in which the Liberal Party won more seats in both houses of Congress than any other .

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Creomar de Souza, a political analyst at Dharma Political Risk and Strategy, said the wording of de Moraes’ ruling showed the electoral court was likely to reject the appeal.

The error was not known until now, but experts say that it does not affect the results either. Each voting machine can still be easily identified by other means, such as city and voting district, says Wilson Ruggiero, professor of computer engineering and digital systems at the Polytechnic School of the University of Sao Paulo.

Diego Aranha, associate professor of systems security at Aarhus University in Denmark, who participated in official security tests of Brazil’s electoral system, agrees.

“It in no way undermines reliability or credibility,” Ruggiero told The Associated Press by phone. “The key point that guarantees correctness is the digital signature associated with each voting machine.”

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Although the machines do not have individual identification numbers in their internal records, these numbers appear on printed receipts that show the total of all votes cast for each candidate, Aranha said, adding that the error was discovered only thanks to the efforts of the electoral commission empowered to provide greater transparency.

Bolsonaro’s loss of less than two points to da Silva on October 30 was the narrowest margin since Brazil’s return to democracy in 1985. While the president didn’t specifically foul out, he refused to concede defeat or congratulate his opponent — leaving room for supporters to draw their own conclusions.

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Many protested relentlessly, making allegations of electoral fraud and demanding that the armed forces intervene.

Dozens of Bolsonaro supporters gathered outside a news conference on Tuesday, decked out in the green and yellow of the Brazilian flag and singing patriotic songs. Some verbally attacked and pushed journalists who tried to enter the hall.

Bolsonaro has spent more than a year claiming that Brazil’s electronic voting system is prone to fraud, without providing any evidence.

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Brazil began using an electronic voting system in 1996, and election security experts consider such systems less secure than hand-marked paper ballots because they leave no verifiable paper trail. But the Brazilian system has been scrutinized by domestic and international experts who have never found evidence that it has been used for fraud.

The president of the Senate, Rodrigo Pacheco, said on Tuesday afternoon that the results of the election were “unquestionable”.

Bolsonaro has been in near-total seclusion in his official residence since his defeat on October 30, prompting widespread speculation about whether he is depressed or planning to seize power.

In an interview with O Globo newspaper, Vice President Hamilton Mourão attributed Bolsonaro’s absence to erysipelas, a skin infection on his legs that he said prevents the president from wearing pants.

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But his son Eduardo Bolsonaro, a federal lawmaker, was more direct.

“We always didn’t trust those machines. … We want a comprehensive review,” the younger Bolsonaro said last week at a conference in Mexico City. “There is very strong evidence to order an investigation into the Brazilian election.”

The Liberal Party hired the Legal Vote Institute, a group that has criticized the current system, for its review, saying it defies the law by not ensuring a digital record of every single vote.

In a separate report presented earlier this month, Brazil’s military said there were flaws in the country’s electoral systems and suggested improvements, but did not substantiate claims of fraud by some of Bolsonaro’s supporters.

Analysts have suggested that the armed forces, which have been a key component of the Bolsonaro administration, may have maintained an appearance of uncertainty over the issue to avoid displeasing the president. In a subsequent statement, the Ministry of Defense noted that while it found no evidence of fraud in the vote count, it could not rule out the possibility.

Biller called from Rio de Janeiro. Associated Press writer Mark Stevenson in Mexico City contributed to this report.