Brazil's Bolsonaro loses his bid to reform voting system

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Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, center, and his Defense Minister Walter Braga Netto, second from right, watch a military convoy pass Planalto presidential palace, alongside military officials in Brasilia, Brazil, Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021. The convoy paraded by the palace on Tuesday, the day of a key congressional vote on a constitutional reform proposal supported by Bolsonaro that would add printed receipts to some of the nations electronic ballot boxes. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

BRASILIA – President Jair Bolsonaro has suffered a major defeat in Congress when Brazilian lawmakers rejected a proposal to require printed receipts at some electronic ballot boxes.

Without presenting any evidence, Bolsonaro has insisted Brazil’s electronic voting system is prone to fraud, and that printouts would allow for auditing results. The proposed constitutional change needed 308 votes in order to pass, and received 229 Tuesday night.

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The opposition, however, also fell short of reaching an overwhelming majority to rebuff the president's relentless efforts to undermine confidence in the voting system. Only 218 lawmakers voted against the measure.

Electoral authorities and even many of Bolsonaro’s political allies opposed the proposal, saying the system is fully reliable and the change could create opportunities for vote buying. Critics contend Bolsonaro is trying to sow doubt among his passionate supporters about the 2022 election results, setting the stage for potential conflicts similar to those spawned by then U.S. President Donald Trump’s allegations of fraud in the United States.

Cláudio Couto, a political scientist at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, a university, said Tuesday's vote marked the biggest legislative defeat for Bolsonaro since he took office in 2019. The measure was a watered-down version of an initial proposal to adopt printouts at all of the nation’s voting ballot boxes. That initiative was rejected last week by a congressional committee.

“The administration is getting more fragile in every aspect,” Couto said. “By insisting on the printed vote — for a nonexistent problem — Bolsonaro made this defeat important.”

Bolsonaro told supporters on Wednesday that, despite the loss, the divided vote showed that a large part of Congress doesn’t believe elections are conducted seriously and that Brazilians won’t trust next year’s results.

He said some lawmakers who voted against the proposal were pressured by Brazil's electoral court, while others were blackmailed or feared retaliation. He offered no evidence for those claims.

In pushing for the change, Bolsonaro has repeatedly insulted Luis Roberto Barroso, a Supreme Court justice who is president of Brazil’s electoral court, accusing him of working to benefit former leftist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who is expected to run in next year’s election and is leading in early polls.

Earlier Tuesday, dozens of military vehicles and hundreds of soldiers paraded past the presidential palace as Bolsonaro looked on, then they continued past Congress. The vehicles left the city at night.

The navy issued a statement saying the convoy had been planned long before the congressional vote. But it was announced only on Monday and critics said it looked like an attempt to intimidate the president's opponents.

Tuesday's vote represented a bid by lower house Speaker Arthur Lira, a Bolsonaro ally, to resolve the dispute and ease tensions in the capital.

“In the lower house, I hope that this issue is definitively settled,” Lira told reporters last night.

___ Marcelo Silva da Sousa reported from Rio de Janeiro.

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