Integrity in Brazil’s vote

A presidential election illustrates that credible democratic institutions diminish violence and withstand disinformation.

State workers transport electronic ballot boxes to voting stations in Manaus, Brazil, Oct. 29.

At a time of concern about a global erosion of the rule of law, some of the world’s youngest democracies are offering evidence that the ideal of government by the people is both resilient and enduring. The latest example is Brazil, where a tense presidential election concluded Oct. 30 in a peaceful vote for change.

The result defied predictions of political violence. It showed that, even in the most deeply divided societies, credible democratic institutions provide a bulwark against the destabilizing effects of disinformation.

“If there is anything Brazilians should appreciate tonight, it is the efficiency and reliability of their voting system,” Valentina Sader of  the Atlantic Council wrote after the vote. “It allowed for confidence in the results being released within hours of voting sites closing, effectively constraining any credible questioning of the result.”

The election pitted the hard-right incumbent president, Jair Bolsonaro, against Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a socialist former president. Both are controversial. Mr. Bolsonaro’s critics decry his harsh security tactics, dismissal of the pandemic, and policies that accelerated deforestation of the Amazon rainforest. Meanwhile Lula, as he is popularly known, was convicted and imprisoned for corruption (the charges were vacated by Brazil’s Supreme Court in April 2021, but he was not exonerated). Voters on both sides expressed a shared desire for integrity in their leaders. For months leading up to the election, which started with a first round on Oct. 2, Mr. Bolsonaro predicted widespread ballot fraud, without evidence, and vowed not to accept defeat. In the end, Lula won by 1.8 percentage points. Notably, although Mr. Bolsonaro had yet to concede by midday Oct. 31, his top allies in Congress accepted the outcome without hesitation.

The campaign saw an uptick in violence from 2018, the last presidential election year. One source of mistrust was widespread disinformation and wild accusations by the campaigns shared on social media. The Superior Electoral Court, a panel of judges that oversees Brazil’s elections, reported a 1,671% increase in complaints about false posts and videos compared with municipal elections two years ago.

Election officials deployed several measures to counter that trend. In July, they forged a pact with social media platforms to moderate false content. When that did not work, they imposed their own measures to block the spread of information that they found demonstrably untrue. They took other measures, too, including an “integrity test” of voting machines across the country on election day morning. Those trials measured electronic and paper test ballots for accuracy.

Ahead of the first round of balloting four weeks ago, Justice Edson Fachin, a member of the electoral court, said, “I have the unshakable certainty that democracy bends, but does not bend or break with fake news.”

In Brazil’s elections, much of the world saw the future of the Amazon at stake. But the peaceful, transparent vote provides a lesson for countries striving to preserve the integrity of their own ballots.

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