The Electoral System

Brazil Table of Contents

Since independence Brazil has experimented with almost every possible electoral system: single and multimember districts, and proportional representation with various formulas. Only the so-called mixed systems are yet to be tried. Election day is always a national holiday. Until 1965 national and state elections were held on October 3, but the military moved the date to November 15 (Day of the Republic, a military holiday). The constitution of 1988 reestablished October 3 (ninety days before the inauguration of executive-branch elected officials) for the first round of voting, and November 15 for runoff elections when needed. As of 1998, first-round elections will be held on the first Sunday in October and runoff second rounds on the last Sunday of October.

Brazilian election laws are very complex and detailed. The law requires that all candidates who hold executive positions resign six months before the election (see The Legislature, this ch.). No "write-in" candidacies are allowed; only candidates officially presented by a registered political party may participate. Parties choose their candidates in municipal, state, or national conventions. Although the legislation does not recognize party primaries officially, on occasion they have been used informally.

Voting is considered both a right and a duty in Brazil; thus, registration and voting are compulsory between the ages of eighteen and seventy. Illiterates vote, but their voting registration card identifies their status, and they sign the voting list with a fingerprint on election day. The 1988 constitution lowered the voting age, permitting sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds to vote on a voluntary basis. In 1994 these young voters (who cannot legally drink or drive) totaled 2,132,190 (2.2 percent of the electorate). For these reasons, turnouts for all elections in Brazil are very high, usually more than 85 percent. At certain times, voters have cast blank and void ballots as a means of protest, especially in 1970, when military oppression was at its height.

Before 1966 individual paper ballots were used for each office, and the voter placed the appropriate set in an envelope, which was inserted into the ballot box. Since 1966 unified single ballots have been used for simultaneous elections. In 1996 fifty-one of Brazil's largest cities used a new electronic voting machine with great success. In 1998 some 90 million voters will use this new technique, which may become a hot export item. For majority elections, candidates' names are listed in random order, and the voter must mark the respective box. For proportional elections, the voter can write the name or identification (ID) number of the candidate, or write the symbol or ID number of the party preference. There is no alternative to making a straight party vote for all offices on the ballot. This procedure is extremely complicated for voters with little schooling. In elections in the first half of the 1990s, many voted for one or two executive offices and left the rest of the ballot blank.

Before Congress adopted Law No. 8,713 in September 1993, there were few restrictions on campaign finances. Businesses and labor unions could not make political contributions. Individual persons could contribute to parties, but not to individual candidates. Parties were required to submit their accounting to the TSE (Superior Electoral Court), countersigned by each other. In 1994 contributions from individual businesses (but not labor unions) were legalized, and electoral bonus (bnus eleitoral ) receipts were issued to contributors, who have often used them to evade taxes.

In 1994 Law No. 8,713 also required parties and candidates to submit to the electoral courts detailed balance sheets listing contributors and expenses. These reports were made public and hastily analyzed by the press. Cardoso's presidential campaign listed expenses of nearly R$32 million, about one real per vote, and contributions from banks, large construction firms, and businesses.

Brazil has four types of majority elections: the president, governors, and mayors are elected by absolute majorities; senators, by simple majorities. In elections for president, governors, and mayors of cities with more than 200,000 voters, a runoff is required between the top two candidates if no one receives an absolute majority in the first round (50 percent plus at least one vote). The president, governors, and mayors have their respective vice president, vice governors, and vice mayors, who are elected on unified slates.

The May 1994 constitutional revision reducing the presidential term from five to four years unified the terms of the president, state governors, and Congress. State and national elections are scheduled for 1998 and 2002, two years out of phase with municipal elections, which are set for 1996 and 2000.

Three senators are elected by simple majority to represent each of the twenty-six states and the Federal District. They are elected to alternating eight-year terms: one seat will be contested in 1998 and the other two in 2002. Each senator has an alternate elected on a unified ticket, usually from another party in the coalition. If the senator elected takes leave, dies, resigns, or is expelled, the alternate takes over.

Brazil uses an open-list d'Hondt proportional representation system to elect federal and state deputies and city council members. Each party or coalition selects its list of candidates, which is registered with the respective Electoral Court in June. Coalition partners lose their identity and compete in a single "basket" of votes. Coalitions are very important for proportional representation elections in Brazil. In 1962 nearly 50 percent of federal deputies were elected through coalitions. With the surge of new parties created after 1985, coalitions again appeared in the 1986, 1990, and 1996 elections. These coalitions accounted for nearly 90 percent of those elected.

In proportional representation elections, voters have the option of making a party vote. Usually, however, the proportional representation campaigns are so individualized (many candidates never mention their party label in their propaganda) that the party vote is very small (8 percent in 1994). An exception is the Workers' Party, which received 33 percent of its votes for federal deputy as party votes in 1994.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress