The first round of elections in Brazil was successful and transpired peacefully. The vote, however, was marked by polarization, with hostile incidents against candidates and political groups, as well as fake news. The conclusion was made public yesterday (Oct. 8) in Brasília by representatives from the international mission of the Organization of American States (OAS), which observed the elections.
The report put together by the organization shows concerns in the pre-election period over polarization and hostility, seen not only in speeches, but also in the form of physical violence. As an example, they mentioned the attack against presidential hopeful Jair Bolsonaro and threats against journalists and activists involved in the organization of the rallies staged by women opposing Bolsonaro—demonstrations that became known through the hashtag #EleNão, often referred to in English as #NotHim.
Specialists also reported that some addresses during the campaign had a discriminatory tone. “For the second round of vote, the OAS mission urges opponents to focus their campaigns on the proposals for society instead of discrediting or stigmatizing rivals,” the report reads.
Safe voting machines
The OAS outlined how voting machines were set up and said that the process was free of major incidents and carried out in time. “In the 390 voting stations observed not a problem was detected concerning the voting machines,” said mission head and former Costa Rica President Laura Chinchilla. She said that mission members became familiar with issues being reported, but added that occasional problems do not make the results of the vote illegitimate.
“We did not find [problems] with the tables we watched, and the sampling was wide. We did not observe any verifiable data that could lead us to suppose that errors reached a scale that could have changed the result of the elections,” she said.
Gerardo Icaza, OAS director for cooperation and electoral observation, said that electoral computing experts have monitored machines since the beginning of the year, and “saw nothing abnormal.”
He noted that, since the machines are not connected, any instance of fraud would not make a significant impact on the elections. “The maximum for each machine is 400 votes. In order to impact on millions of voters, you need to manipulate all votes in approximately 2,500 machines. This is not easy to conceal,” he said.
The mission also mentioned the spread of fake news “constant” before the vote and even on election day. Mission members recognized the efforts of the Superior Electoral Court, the media, and society in fighting these messages through fact-finding. Chinchilla described the spread of misinformation as “a major challenge” facing democracies.
“In the case of Brazil, we can say that, today, the network with the biggest reach of [falsehoods] is WhatsApp. It’s a world with groups functioning in private. And the most believable sources for people are those closest to them, groups formed by friends and family. WhatsApp is the means through which the highest amount of false information is being disseminated,” Laura Chinchilla declared.
Chinchilla also praised the quickness with which the vote count was carried out for the first round, and mentioned the results being published hours after the vote was over. “This is particularly remarkable, as this is democracy with over 140 million electors,” she argued.