Brazil: “The Electronic Voting Machine Will Be Linux-Powered”

Simulation of electronic democracy on the TSE Web site: requires Java.

Última Instância (Brazil) reports:

“The federal elections tribunal (TSE) will change the electronic voting machine system.”

The scant news coverage on this development that I have read so far all consists of an uncritical, verbatim cut-and-paste of the TSE press release on the subject. Which is pretty typical, I find.


De acordo com os principais jornais do país, a partir das eleições municipais de 2008, as urnas eletrônicas contarão com sistema operacional Linux, a ser desenvolvido pela equipe técnica do Tribunal Superior Eleitoral. Segundo a Secretaria de Tecnologia da Informação, as vantagens da utilização do Linux na urna eletrônica são a padronização, pois é possível utilizar o sistema operacional em todos os modelos de urna, e a transparência, já que se trata de um mecanismo aberto em que todo código-fonte está disponível ao público e pode ser auditado livremente. Outra vantagem é o custo zero, já que não é preciso pagar licença.

According to major newspapers, starting with the municipal elections of 2008, Brazil’s e-voting machines will use the Linux operating system, to be developed by the technical team of the TSE. According to the TSE’s IT division, the advantages of using Linux in the electronic voting machine are standardization, since it is possible to use this OS in all models of the device, as well as transparency, since this is an open mechanism in which all the source code is available to the public and can be freely audited. Another advantage is zero cost, because no license fees must be paid.

I know of some people who will be celebrating this development, if it pans out. The Br-Linux forums are as joyusly animated over the news as tap-dancing penguins, for example.

The back office will apparently continue to be Redmond-powered and -licensed, however: TSE Pregão (procurement auction, sort of) No. 014.897/2007, seeking to acquire the following software licenses:

Aquisição de licenças Microsoft: cinco (5) Windows Server 2003 Enterprise inglês, 285 Windows Server 2003 Standard Português Brasil, 5,000 Windows Server CAL Português Brasil, 100 Windows 2003 Terminal Server CAL Português Brasil e 1,400 Microsoft Office 2007 português Brasil.

WS2003 Enterprise generally goes for around $4,000. Standard Edition, around US$2,000. The user license (CAL), for around $27 a year per user. Microsoft Office 2007 editions vary in price: The enterprise edition is only availabe on a volume basis. The professional edition is listed for around $500.

Brazil seems to be following the EU’s lead in this regard, generally speaking. See

There have been intimations of the change for some time now. See, for example

This seems to represent a remarkable about face, from an elections authority that deployed a flood of (gabbling) publicity in support of the proposition that the system, as it exists, was near-magical in its infallibility. See

Windows CE has been exiled to Ô do Borogodô, it seems, in terms of its use in Brazilian voting machines. It has gone to live in the Casa da Mãe Joana.

It is very encouraging to read that the source code will be open, respecting the GPL condition that source code be contributed back to the public domain, and open for inspection by independent code-parsing geeks.

This is an extremely important practical issue bearing on recent jaw-dropping debacles that have affected the system. See, for example

The “quick count” system for the 2006 elections was proprietary (Microsoft) and seemed sort of like nonsensical vaporware to me. See

The very same consortium that produced the Brazilian system produced a system that failed scandalously to produce a quick-count in the Ecuadoran elections last year.

Consortium executives had to flee the country, pursued by an election-fraud probe. See also

Related stories:

I guess that consortium has lost the gig.

But there may be a need for skeptical analysis of these claims, beyond simply cutting-and-pasting the press release.

The devil, as always, in the details.

Linux has developed license-creep of late, as we know, for example.

What Linux will be used? Under what license model? Just exactly how “transparent” will it be?

The TSE helpfully informs us of the wide variety of distributions available, without informing us which, after its long and diligent search, it has settled on:

A equipe técnica do TSE, desde 2002, vem realizando testes para viabilização de uma solução de código aberto. Foi escolhido o sistema operacional Linux, software código-aberto (Open Source) cujo núcleo vem sendo desenvolvido e aprimorado desde 1991, quando o seu criador disponibilizou o código na Internet. Várias empresas como IBM, HP, Intel, Dell, entre outras, têm investido em código aberto. Atualmente existem mais de 450 distribuições diferentes no mercado.

The technical team of the TSE has been conducting tests since 2002 on the viability of an open-source solution.

Is that true?

It rolled out a proprietary solution for its quick-count last year, after all.
Chosen was the Linux OS, an open-source software whose core has been in development since 1991, when its creator made the source code available on the Internet.
The network that developed out of ARPANET was not officially designated “the Internet” until 1995. It might be more accurate to say that it was first disseminated on USENET.

Various companies, such as IBM, HP, Intel, Dell and others, have invested in open source.

And which of those companies will the TSE work with to Penguinize its magic democracy machine?

There are currently more than 450 distributions worldwide.

And which one has the TSE settled on after all that exhaustive testing?

And how will the TSE develop a “new” system, in a “transparent” manner, in time for the municipal elections, which are less than one year off?

Naive questions from an amateur. I will see if I can find out more details from people who know more about these things than I do. Stay tuned.

Kurumim (from Tupi-Guarani ’small child’) Linux with the K Desktop Environment. I have a live CD of it around here somewhere but am more of a Gnome man myself, in that great FLOSS version of the old Fla-Flu divide … but gravitating to some of the minimalist OpenBSD workspace designs, I should say.


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