Brazil Electoral System
The Electoral System
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
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
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 (bônus 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
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.
Data as of April 1997