Brazilian E-Democracy: Reality-Testing the Press Release
Posted by Colin Brayton on October 27, 2006
NMM Mission No. 1: “Reality-test the press release.”
I have been applying that principal to the publicity campaign by Brazil’s federal elections tribunal, touting the efficiency and perfect security of “digital democracy” here.
Two points will serve to illustrate what I think is the urgent need for intensive investigation of this question.
First, TSE president’s Marco Aurélio Mello’s declaration to the press that the “dossiergate” affair “is worse than Watergate,” and endorsing the impeachment of da Silva.
This is the most egregious of those bizarre and unjudicious ex parte remarks I have mentioned here and there over the past couple of weeks.
Mello — I keep want to spell his name melô — later admitted that the TSE had yet to take judicial notice of the matter, and that he spoke without any familiarity with the facts in the case.
The TSE later summoned presidential adviser Freud Godoy to testify on the matter — before, if I have my facts straight, the Federal Police had taken his deposition.
The second is Melo’s astonishing judicial error — the TSE, after all, wrote the freaking laws and regulation — in calling the elections officially on the Monday following the Sunday vote — followed by a correction the following day, and a five or six day delay in the start of the second round.
The TSE argues that the error was not an error, but rather a failure to communicate the unofficial nature of the Monday announcement to an obtuse media.
The delay in the official start of the second round — the data changed from Monday to Tuesday — indicates otherwise, however, as does the legal form of the announcement and the fact that it was dispatched to the plenary session of the Senate for official promulgation.
A corollory of that second point was the flood of articles in the press declaring that “the time between the vote and knowing the results has fallen to zero” in Brazil.
This gross misstatement of the actual electoral process — oh, fuck it, let’s just call it the lying crock of shit that it is — continues to be hammered on in the TSE’s official publicity, and in media reports that repeat its talking points.
There are many small instances in which the “social communications” arm of the TSE has apparently had to cover up for the bizarre behavior of the institution’s chief magistrate — who is a cousin of impeached ex-president Fernando Collor, by the way.
My favorite is the video release titled “Chief Magistrate Counsels Voters Against Voting Null.”
The tenor of Mello’s remarks are exactly contrary to the title, and the video that accompanies those remarks is essentially a primer on how to nullify one’s vote. See this prior edition of NMM-TV.
One immediately thinks of Cesar Maia’s confident assertion the other day that the blank, null and invalid vote will rise to the level of 18% on October 29.
This is, to me, the key factor to watch as the votes come in.
The index of null votes in the first round was unusually high in some states, I think: 7.6% in Rio, for example. And there have been some landmark rulings on the question in the last several years.
On the failure to investigate document well-founded allegations of e-voting fraud, see here.
A good place to start digging is the regulation passed by TSE this year which no longer requires precincts to give a copy of the printout from the voting machine, stating the cumulative result from that machine, to the designated representatives of the political parties.
The purpose of that step was to allow pollwatchers to compare the original product with the precinct counts published by the TSE through the black-box Divulga 2006 system, to ensure that — as may have been the case in Mexico — no alteration to the count has occurred in transit between the precinct, the TSE processing center in Brasília, and the final result released to the public.
Note that Mello’s unilateral announcement had precisely the same effect: To skip the reconciliation of the overall results to be published with the reports from the regional TREs.
Thus the choice of “Pelo telefone” — the first carnival samba ever recorded — as the theme music here:
The lyric says that “the chief of police called me up on the telephone” — a new feature of social life at the time — “to let me know there was a new roulette wheel to play down at the Carioca Club.”
But you can’t let the corruption get you down, goes the first chorus. You have to laugh at it, because what else can you do?
By the way, if you still think I am just being alarmist here, or talking about theoretical risk scenarios, check out this case from the first-round election, 2006, in Rondônia.