Brazil’s electronic ballot boxes are internationally admired: The country welcomes foreign delegations that travel here to study them, and sends experts to other nations to teach them about the technology. But as the country goes to vote today (Oct. 7) in a deeply polarized election, conspiracy theories spread by frontrunner Jair Bolsonaro, a radical right-wing populist, are casting doubts on their infallibility. The attack on the machines threatens to call into question the integrity of Brazil’s entire electoral process. The machines are mandatory in 460,000 voting stations across Brazil’s five regions, and have become iconic in Brazil since they were first used in 1996. Their instantly recognizable sound indicating a vote has been cast is used in political ads. They’re touted on TV on election day, with segments showing the challenges electoral workers face to transport the boxes containing them—be it by truck in São Paulo, by bus in Rio, or by boat in the Amazon. The country even lends the machines to fellow Latin American nations for tests (in countries like Argentina, Haiti, Equador, and Mexico) or for actual elections (like in the tiny neighboring nation of Paraguay).
ut Bolsonaro publicly questioned their reliability in a live Facebook video aimed at his supporters, shot as he recovered from a stabbing that marked a dramatic turn in the election. He claimed without evidence that his opponents were using the voting machines to defraud the vote.
Bolsonaro has attacked institutions from the courts to the press to Brazilian democracy itself. He has even borrowed Donald Trump’s infamous term “fake news,” which has been adopted without translation by many in the Portuguese-speaking country.