Judge rejects Bolsonaro’s belated offer to overturn Brazilian elections

RIO DE JANEIRO – For more than a year, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro had warned that he could not accept defeat in last month’s presidential election. Then he lost. In response, he reluctantly agreed to begin the transfer of power – while his allies scrutinized the election results for evidence of any errors.

This week his campaign claimed to have found it: a small bug in the voting machines. On Tuesday, the campaign filed a motion to vote in Mr Bolsonaro’s favour, saying the bug should nullify the votes of about 60 percent of the voting machines.

Of the remaining votes, Mr. Bolsonaro would win 51 percent, the campaign said, making him the winner in place of the left-wing former president who defeated him, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

The request was an Ave Maria. Independent experts said the error did not affect the integrity of the vote. And then, late Wednesday, Brazil’s election chief dismissed the complaint and fined the three conservative parties behind it more than $4.3 million for filing it.

Alexandre de Moraes, a Supreme Court justice who heads Brazil’s electoral body and one of Mr Bolsonaro’s most prominent political opponents, said in a decision Wednesday night that the campaign’s arguments were “absolutely false” and that the motion to annul the election was “allegedly an attack on the democratic rule of law and carried out ruthlessly to encourage criminal and anti-democratic movements.”

Mister. Moraes had previously given the campaign 24 hours to explain why it had only questioned votes from the second round, in which Bolsonaro lost, rather than the first round, in which his political party, using the same voting machines, had the most won seats in Congress. After the head of Mr Bolsonaro’s party said Wednesday that it lacked information about the first round, Mr Moraes said the lawsuit was dismissed.

Mister. Moraes, the election chief, is facing criticism of the electoral system by Mr Bolsonaro and his allies. Mister. Moraes’ aggressive response to attacks on what he calls Brazil’s democracy, including his orders for social media to delete thousands of posts, has drawn widespread criticism from the Brazilian right.

Briefly on Wednesday afternoon, hours before Mr Moraes’ decision, Mr Bolsonaro’s right-wing Liberal Party called reporters to a hotel in Brasília, the country’s capital, to explain their findings.

Valdemar Costa Neto, the party’s leader, said the software bug had required a review of the election results. “There can be no doubt about the vote,” he said. “If this is a stain on our democracy, we have to fix it now.”

Mister. Moraes on Wednesday also ordered an investigation into Mr Costa Neto and the officer overseeing the party’s audit.

Mr Bolsonaro’s campaign causes an error in a document created by some older voting machines. The error concerns the identification number associated with the voting machine. Liberal Party officials argued that this made verification of the votes more difficult.

Independent computer security experts who have examined Brazil’s voting machines and reviewed the campaign’s results said that was wrong. They said that while the bug exists, it doesn’t affect the integrity of the results. That’s because there are a variety of other ways to identify the voting machines, including on the documents that show the error.

“You have pointed out an error that needs to be fixed. That’s great and actually easy to fix,” said Marcos Simplício, a cybersecurity researcher at the University of São Paulo. But he said the campaign’s proposal to cancel votes is like arguing that a car is totaled because of a scratch on the door.

“Try to convince your insurance company,” he said. “That’s nonsense. Complete nonsense.”

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