Bolsonaro contests Brazilian presidential election, demands that votes be annulled

Valdemar Costa Neto, the leader of President Jair Bolsonaro's Liberal Party, speaks
Valdemar Costa Neto, leader of President Jair Bolsonaro’s Liberal Party, speaks Tuesday regarding claims of inconsistencies in voting machines.
(Eraldo Peres / Associated Press)

More than three weeks after losing a reelection bid, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Tuesday blamed a software bug and demanded that the electoral authority annul ballots that were cast on most of the nation’s electronic voting machines — though independent experts say the bug doesn’t affect the reliability of results.

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

The electoral authority has declared victory for leftist former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and even many of Bolsonaro’s allies have accepted the results. Protesters across the country have refused to do the same, as the right-wing incumbent has declined to concede.


Liberal Party leader Valdemar Costa Neto and an auditor hired by the party told reporters in Brasilia that their evaluation found that all machines dating from before 2020 — nearly 280,000, about 59% of the total used in the Oct. 30 runoff — lacked individual identification numbers in internal logs.

Neither explained how that might have affected election results but said they were asking the electoral authority to invalidate all votes cast on those machines.

The complaint characterized the bug as “irreparable noncompliance due to malfunction” that called into question the authenticity of the results.

Immediately afterward, the head of the electoral authority issued a ruling that implicitly raised the possibility that Bolsonaro’s party could suffer from such a challenge. Alexandre de Moraes said the court would not consider the complaint unless the party offers an amended report within 24 hours that would include results from the first electoral round on Oct. 2, in which the Liberal Party won more seats in both congressional houses than any other.

The bug hadn’t been known previously, and experts said it doesn’t affect results. Each voting machine can be easily identified through other means, such as its city and voting district, according to Wilson Ruggiero, a professor of computer engineering and digital systems at the Polytechnic School of the University of Sao Paulo.

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


“It does not undermine the reliability or credibility in any way,” Ruggiero said. “The key point that guarantees correctness is the digital signature associated with each voting machine.”

Although the machines don’t have individual identification numbers in their internal logs, those numbers do appear on printed receipts that show the sum of all votes cast for each candidate, said Aranha, adding that the bug was detected only because of efforts by the electoral authority to provide greater transparency.

Bolsonaro’s loss to Lula of less than 2 points was the narrowest margin since Brazil’s 1985 return to democracy. Although the president hasn’t explicitly cried foul, he has refused to concede defeat or to congratulate his opponent — leaving room for supporters to draw their own conclusions.

Many have been protesting, claiming election fraud and demanding that the armed forces intervene. Dozens of Bolsonaro supporters gathered outside Tuesday’s news conference, wearing the green and yellow of Brazil’s flag and chanting patriotic songs. Some verbally attacked and pushed journalists trying to enter the venue.

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

Brazil began using an electronic voting system in 1996. Election security experts consider such systems to be less secure than hand-marked paper ballots, because they leave no auditable paper trail. But Brazil’s system has been scrutinized by domestic and international experts who have never found evidence of it being exploited to commit fraud.

The Senate’s president, Rodrigo Pacheco, said Tuesday afternoon that the election results are “unquestionable.”

Bolsonaro has been secluded in the official residence since his Oct. 30 defeat, inviting widespread speculation as to whether he is dejected or plotting to cling to power.

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

The president’s son Eduardo Bolsonaro, a federal lawmaker, has been more direct.

“We always distrusted these machines. ... We want a massive audit,” the younger Bolsonaro said last week at a conference in Mexico City. “There is very strong evidence to order an investigation of Brazil’s election.”

For its audit, the Liberal Party hired the Legal Vote Institute, a group that has been critical of the current system, saying it defies the law by failing to provide a digital record of every vote.

In a separate report presented earlier this month, the Brazilian military said there were flaws in the country’s electoral systems and proposed improvements but didn’t substantiate claims of fraud from some of Bolsonaro’s supporters.

Analysts have said the armed forces, which have been a key component of Bolsonaro’s administration, may have suggested uncertainty over the issue to avoid displeasing the president. In a statement, the Defense Ministry stressed that although it had not found evidence of fraud in the vote counting, it could not exclude that possibility.

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