By DAVID BILLER and CARLA BRIDI
BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — More than three weeks after losing a reelection bid, President Jair Bolsonaro on Tuesday blamed a software bug and demanded the electoral authority annul votes cast on most of Brazil’s nation’s electronic voting machines, though independent experts say the bug doesn’t affect the reliability of results.
Such an action would leave Bolsonaro with 51% of the remaining valid votes — and a reelection victory, Marcelo de Bessa, the lawyer who filed the 33-page request on behalf of the president and his Liberal Party, told reporters.
The electoral authority has already declared victory for Bolsonaro’s nemesis, leftist former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and even many of the president’s allies have accepted the results. Protesters in cities across the country have steadfastly refused to do the same, particularly with Bolsonaro declining to concede.
Liberal Party leader Valdemar Costa and an auditor hired by the party told reporters in Brasilia that their evaluation found all machines dating from before 2020 — nearly 280,000 of them, or about 59% of the total used in the Oct. 30 runoff — lacked individual identification numbers in internal logs.
Neither explained how that might have affected election results, but said they were asking the electoral authority to invalidate all votes cast on those machines.
The complaint characterized the bug as “irreparable non-compliance due to malfunction” that called into question the authenticity of the results.
Immediately afterward, the head of the electoral authority issued a ruling that implicitly raised the possibility that Bolsonaro’s own party could suffer from such a challenge.
Alexandre de Moraes said the court would not consider the complaint unless the party offers an amended report within 24 hours that would include results from the first electoral round on Oct. 2, in which the Liberal Party won more seats in both congressional houses than any other.
Creomar de Souza, political analyst of Dharma Political Risk and Strategy, said the wording of de Moraes’ ruling indicates the electoral court is likely to reject the appeal.
The bug hadn’t been known previously, yet experts said it also doesn’t affect results. Each voting machine can still be easily identified through other means, like its city and voting district, according to Wilson Ruggiero, a professor of computer engineering and digital systems at the Polytechnic School of the University of Sao Paulo.
Diego Aranha, an associate professor of systems security at Aarhus University in Denmark, who has participated in official security tests of Brazil’s electoral system, agreed.
“It does not undermine the reliability or credibility in any way,” Ruggiero told The Associated Press by phone. “The key point that guarantees correctness is the digital signature associated with each voting machine.”
While the machines don’t have individual identification numbers in their internal logs, those numbers do appear on printed receipts that show the sum of all votes cast for each candidate, said Aranha, adding the bug was only detected due to the efforts by the electoral authority to provide greater transparency.
Bolsonaro’s less than two-point loss to da Silva on Oct. 30 was the narrowest margin since Brazil’s 1985 return to democracy. While the president hasn’t explicitly cried foul, he has refused to concede defeat or congratulate his opponent — leaving room for supporters to draw their own conclusions.
Many have been protesting relentlessly, making claims of election fraud and demanding that the armed forces intervene.
Dozens of Bolsonaro supporters gathered outside the news conference on Tuesday, decked out in the green and yellow of Brazil’s flag and chanting patriotic songs. Some verbally attacked and pushed journalists trying to enter the venue.
Bolsonaro spent more than a year claiming Brazil’s electronic voting system is prone to fraud, without ever presenting evidence.
The president’s son, federal lawmaker Eduardo Bolsonaro, repeated that concern at a conference in Mexico last week.
“We always distrusted these machines. … We want a massive audit,” the younger Bolsonaro said. “There is very strong evidence to order an investigation of Brazil’s election.”
Brazil began using an electronic voting system in 1996 and election security experts consider such systems less secure than hand-marked paper ballots, because they leave no auditable paper trail. But Brazil’s system has been closely scrutinized by domestic and international experts who have never found evidence of it being exploited to commit fraud.
The Senate’s president, Rodrigo Pacheco, said Tuesday afternoon that the election results are “unquestionable.”
Bolsonaro has been almost completely secluded in the official residence since his Oct. 30 defeat, inviting widespread speculation as to whether he is dejected or plotting to cling to power.
In an interview with newspaper O Globo, Vice President Hamilton Mourão chalked up Bolsonaro’s absence to erysipelas, a skin infection on his legs that he said prevents the president from wearing pants.
For its audit, the Liberal Party hired the Legal Vote Institute, a group that has been critical of the current system, saying it defies the law by failing to provide a digital record of every individual vote.
In a separate report presented earlier this month, the Brazilian military said there were flaws in the country’s electoral systems and proposed improvements, but didn’t substantiate claims of fraud from some of Bolsonaro’s supporters.
Analysts have suggested that the armed forces, which have been a key component of Bolsonaro’s administration, may have maintained a semblance of uncertainty over the issue to avoid displeasing the president. In a subsequent statement, the Defense Ministry stressed that while it had not found any evidence of fraud in the vote counting, it could not exclude that possibility.
Biller reported from Rio de Janeiro. Associated Press writer Mark Stevenson in Mexico City contributed to this report.
FILE – Electoral Court employees work on the final stage of sealing electronic voting machines in preparation for the general election run-off in Brasilia, Brazil, Oct. 19, 2022, ahead of the Oct. 30 second round vote. Valdemar Costa, president of the ruling Liberal Party, is calling on the electoral authority to annul votes cast on more than half of electronic voting machines used in the Oct. 30 election, citing a software bug. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres, File)