The Efficiency of Brazil’s Elections Is a Stark Contrast to Voter Suppression and Deliberate Chaos in the U.S.

Brazil’s elections are plagued by virtually none of the problems that mar the credibility of U.S. elections year after year. Why?

People line up to vote on the last day of early voting at the Minneapolis Early Vote Center Monday, Nov. 5, 2018, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
People line up to vote on the last day of early voting at the Minneapolis Early Vote Center Monday, Nov. 5, 2018, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone) AP

The systemic, nationwide voting problems plaguing Tuesday night’s midterm elections in the United States appear all the more disgraceful — and deliberate — when compared to the two remarkably efficient national elections that were conducted in Brazil just last month.

That a country poorer than the U.S., with a much shorter history of democracy, can hold such seamless, fair, participatory, and efficient elections proves that the opposite outcome in the U.S. — massive voter disenfranchisement, multi-hour voting lines, pervasive machine malfunctions, and elections that are not decided until weeks after the fact — are very easily avoided and thus likely intentional.

Brazil’s national elections are comparable in size to the U.S.’s. Although Brazil’s population is slightly less than the that of the U.S. — which is the world’s third-most populous country at roughly 325 million, while Brazil is in fifth place with roughly 210 million — Brazil has mandatory voting, a lower voting age (16), and automatic voter registration for citizens, which means vote totals are comparable. In Brazil’s October 28 run-off presidential election, roughly 110 million votes were cast, in the same range of last night’s U.S. vote total.

Yet Brazil’s elections are plagued by virtually none of the problems that mar the credibility of U.S. elections year after year. On October 7, Brazil held the first round of its presidential elections, which, like in the U.S. midterms, also included electing an entirely new lower house of federal Congress and a portion of the federal Senate, as well as governorships and state house races in all 26 Brazilian states and the federal district.

Like all Brazilian elections, the October 7 national vote was held on Sunday, the day the fewest number of people have to work, ensuring maximum voter participation. Polling closed at 5 p.m. All of the votes were fully counted, and all the results fully known, by 8:30 p.m. that night. There were no lingering unknown outcomes, weeks of uncounted votes, widespread claims of voter disenfranchisement, multi-hour lines that spread around blocks, or obstacles to registering.

The October 28 run-off, which elected Jair Bolsonaro as president and also decided the run-off races for governor in multiple states, was even smoother. Votes are electronically counted all day, but the totals are not released until the last poll closes. By the time the last state closed its polls, at 6 p.m., more than 90 percent of the votes were already counted, and the totals were instantly released. Thus, the outcomes of the presidential race and most of the gubernatorial races were known within minutes after the polls closed, and they were all fully determined within two hours of the polls closing.

Then, there’s the issue of voter participation. Voting is legally mandatory in Brazil: Every citizen over the age of 16 is automatically eligible to vote, and those over 18 are required to do so, facing a trivial fine for failing to do so (absent a valid justification). They are free to vote for “none of the candidates” or leave their ballot blank, but it is a legal duty. Still, in the last election, roughly 20 percent of voters violated that law and abstained from voting. But that means that 80 percent of the adult population voted — a far higher participation rate than any election in the U.S.

That’s because everything about the structure of Brazil’s election system, set forth in the 1989 constitution it enacted after it exited its military dictatorship, is designed to maximize, not suppress, voter participation. All citizens are automatically registered. Voting is mandatory. The elections are held on Sunday, ensuring that working people have the fewest barriers to voting, instead of in the middle of the week. Machine voting is uniform throughout the country’s 27 states.

Brazil generally, and its politics specifically, is plagued with countless grave problems, as I’ve reported on over the last several years. It’s a country beset by a convergence of hideous political, social, and economic crises caused by a broken ruling class, all exacerbated by severe wealth inequality.

But that’s the point. If Brazil — an extremely young democracy with far less wealth than the U.S. and intense political, economic, and social pathologies — can hold basically efficient, seamless, fast, vibrantly participatory, and smooth national elections on a massive scale, as it did twice last month, then so, obviously, could the U.S.

The fact that the U.S. last night did not, and does not, do so suggests quite strongly that this “failure” is actually deliberate. As Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez frequently noted about the arcane and hidden voting systems in New York, including purposely holding primary elections to ensure as few votes as possible, incumbents use voter suppression as a key tactic for remaining in power, and for preventing marginalized groups from participating:

Every two years in November, people in the U.S. watch with horror and outrage as they see endless lines, people being turned away from voting booths, rampant technological malfunctions, and vote counts that linger for weeks with no certain outcome. Those emotions quickly dissipate, and thus, the same problems repeat themselves every two years.

There should be no doubt that all of this is quite deliberate, and fixable with relative ease. That Brazil, plagued by an endless stream of systemic political and social problems, can nonetheless hold national elections that are so efficient and fair, proves that all that is missing in the U.S. is the desire to fix this.

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