Not too long ago, the Brazilian population was largely unanimous in its support for the country’s electronic ballot boxes. The state-of-the-art machines were held up as being secure, smart, and super efficient. Brazil could look on gleefully when U.S. elections took almost an entire day to tabulate votes, knowing that their system delivered results in just a matter of hours — with the entire process wrapped up by the evening news.
But that is no longer the case. During his meteoric rise as an outsider candidate in 2018, now-President Jair Bolsonaro consistently expressed his doubts about the electoral system’s integrity, spouting pure conjecture and hearsay to suggest the electronic ballot boxes are subject to fraud.
He claims the 2014 race between Dilma Rousseff and Aécio Neves was rigged in favor of the former, the hand-picked successor to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva — who will be his opponent in October. What’s more, he even calls shenanigans on the 2018 election that he won, complaining that he had won the vote in a first-round landslide, when in actuality he was forced into a runoff against the Workers’ Party’s Fernando Haddad.
Conspiracy theories find fertile ground in Brazil, a country where official versions are often opaque and unsatisfying. But electronic ballot boxes had been largely immune to such speculation before Mr. Bolsonaro’s rise to power. Now, a significant share of the population has some skepticism regarding the voting system, despite never seeing anything remotely describable as proof of its frailties.
For the president, however, the integrity of electronic ballot boxes doesn’t mean a thing. Instead, his smear campaign is simply a strategy to muddy the waters around October’s incoming election result. In past days, the final outcome of a presidential vote would be largely accepted and acknowledged — this year, however, a large share of Bolsonaro supporters are expected to call foul play.
Whether this is part of a plan to barricade himself in the presidency and refuse to relinquish power is a different discussion. However, at the very least, his success in interfering with Brazil’s electoral system will ensure he remains a relevant political figure in the country, regardless of whether he wins or loses in October.