2022 Race

Why spoiled ballots are important in Brazil

spoiled-ballots-brazilian-election
The Brazilian electronic voting machine has a numeric keyboard. Voters can also draw a “blank” vote. If they type in the wrong number, they can push the “correct” button before confirming their choice. Photo: Abdias Pinheiro/Secom/TSE

Voting is mandatory in Brazil, but citizens do have the option of issuing spoiled ballots. Candidates are identified on the country’s electronic voting machines by numeric codes. Typing a nonexistent code will spoil the ballot. Meanwhile, the voting machine also has an option to vote “blank.” For vote-counting purposes, invalid and blank ballots are the same and are not tabulated.

As today is a general election, voters must make selections for federal and state lawmakers, senators, governors, and president. After each choice, the ballot machine displays a screen with a photo of the chosen candidate or the information that the vote will be rendered null or blank. The voter then presses “confirm” button to validate their selection.

The final count only considers valid votes, discounting null or blank ballots. In today’s first round, if former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva wins over 50 percent of the valid votes, he wins the election outright today.

The number of invalid votes in 2018 was the highest since 1989, reaching 9.5 percent. Abstentions reached topped the 20-percent market. 

For this year, the rates are not expected to be that high. According to renowned pollster Datafolha, spoiled ballots only accounted for 3 percent in the institute’s final polls. That said, the turnout is less certain.

Mauro Paulino, who was the head of Datafolha for 20 years, says that blank votes are typically a “protest,” while incorrect votes can occur if citizens make mistakes.

In past presidential elections, some voters even were arrested for reporting “voting fraud” when they had, in fact, typed in the wrong code for their favored candidate. This could be an issue for President Jair Bolsonaro, who famously won the election in 2018 using the number 17 as his code — this year, he will be represented by the number 22.

A late September poll suggested that 13 percent of Mr. Bolsonaro’s supporters don’t know his number.