Bolsonaro contests Brazil election, demands votes be anulled

BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — More than three weeks after losing his re-election bid, President Jair Bolsonaro on Tuesday blamed a software error and asked the electoral authority to void votes cast on most of the Brazilian nation’s electronic voting machines, despite independent experts say that the error does not affect the reliability of the results.

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

Electoral authorities have already declared victory for Bolsonaro’s nemesis, leftist former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and even many of the president’s allies have accepted the results. Protesters in cities across the country have steadfastly refused to do the same, especially with Bolsonaro’s refusal to concede.

Liberal Party leader Valdemar Costa and an auditor hired by the party told reporters in Brazil that their assessment found that all machines dating from before 2020 – nearly 280,000 of them, or about 59% of all used on runoff on October 30 – do not have an individual identification number in the internal logs.

Neither explained how that might have affected the election results, but said they wanted the electoral authority to void all votes cast on those machines.

The complaint characterized the error as an “irreparable discrepancy due to a malfunction,” which casts doubt on the authenticity of the results.

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Immediately afterward, the head of the electoral body issued a ruling that implicitly raised the possibility that Bolsonaro’s own party would suffer a similar challenge.

Alexander de Moraes said the court would not hear the appeal unless the party offered an amended report within 24 hours, which would include the results of the first round of elections on October 2, in which the Liberal Party won more seats in both houses of Congress than any other.

The error was not known until now, but experts said it also did not affect the results. Each voting machine can still be easily identified by other means, such as its city and constituency, according to Wilson Ruggiero, a professor of computer engineering and digital systems at the Polytechnic School of the University of São Paulo.

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

“It doesn’t undermine credibility or trust in any way,” Ruggiero told The Associated Press by phone. “The key point that guarantees correctness is the digital signature associated with each voting machine.”

Although the machines do not have individual ID numbers in their internal logs, those numbers appear on printed receipts that show the sum of all votes cast for each candidate, Arana said, adding that the error was discovered only thanks to the election authority’s efforts to ensuring greater transparency.

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Bolsonaro’s loss by less than two points to da Silva on October 30 was the narrowest of margins after Brazil’s return to democracy in 1985. Although the president did not specifically call foul, he refused to concede defeat or to congratulate his opponent – leaving room for supporters to draw their own conclusions.

Many have protested relentlessly, making allegations of 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 the Brazilian flag and chanting patriotic songs. Some verbally attacked and pushed journalists who tried to enter the hall.

Bolsonaro spent more than a year looking into Brazil’s electronic voting system is prone to fraud without presenting any evidence at all.

Brazil began using an electronic voting system in 1996, and election security experts consider such systems less secure than hand-marked paper ballots because they leave no verifiable paper trail. But Brazil’s system has been scrutinized by local and international experts, who have never found evidence that it has been used to commit fraud.

Senate President Rodrigo Pacheco said Tuesday afternoon that the election results were “indisputable.”

Bolsonaro has been in almost complete seclusion at his official residence since his defeat on October 30, prompting widespread speculation that he is disheartened or plans to cling to power.

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In an interview with O Globo newspaper, Vice President Hamilton Murao described Bolsonaro’s absence as erysipelas, a skin infection on his legs that he said prevents the president from wearing pants.

But his son, Eduardo Bolsonaro, a federal lawmaker, is more direct.

“We have always been suspicious of these machines. … We want a large-scale audit,” the younger Bolsonaro said last week at a conference in Mexico City. “There is very strong evidence to order an investigation into the Brazilian 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 not providing a digital record of every individual vote.

In a separate report released earlier this monthBrazil’s military said there were gaps in the country’s election systems and suggested improvements, but did not substantiate allegations of fraud by some of Bolsonaro’s supporters.

Analysts have suggested that the armed forces, which have been a key component of Bolsonaro’s administration, may have maintained a semblance of uncertainty over the issue to avoid displeasing the president. In a subsequent statement, the Ministry of Defense stressed that while it had found no evidence of fraud in the vote count, it could not rule out the possibility.

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

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