From São Paulo to the Amazon, about 150 million Brazilians are voting today

A person walks over election flyers in São Paulo.
A person walks over election flyers in São Paulo.
Image: Reuters/Paulo Whitaker
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SÃO PAULO — Brazilians are picking their next president today along with governors and legislators, choosing from almost 27,000 candidates in 35 political parties.

That number of parties is high even by Brazilian standards, and there are dozens more being formed. Voting is mandatory (though the fine of less than $1 is mostly symbolic), and turnout is usually high by global standards at around 80%. Today, over 147 million of about 207 million Brazilians are expected to cast their ballots before the last polls close at 4pm ET.

Electronic ballot boxes are used across the country—a model that’s admired internationally but has recently been the subject of conspiracy theories. The machines are relatively small, and are taken everywhere across the vast country, including via boats to far-flung voting stations in the Amazon. Once polls close, votes from isolated areas are beamed via satellite to the capital, so they’re often tallied faster than votes from large cities.

Since the entire voting process is electronic, results are out quickly. (Before the new voting machines, it used to take more than a week.) Due to time zones, polls in coastal states like São Paulo close earlier than in the distant states of the Amazon, so results for state races start to be announced in eastern areas even as voting is happening in the west. The result of the presidential race is expected after 8pm ET.

The two favorites are radical far-right populist Jair Bolsonaro of the tiny Social Liberal Party (PSL), and former São Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad of the Workers’ Party (PT), the iconic leftist party founded by charismatic former Brazilian president Lula. He’s currently in prison on a corruption conviction.

Polarization in the country is extremely high. Voters are disillusioned after  14 years of Workers’ Party rule, which ended in a recession, an impeachment of Lula’s successor Dilma Rousseff, a massive investigation into widespread institutional corruption, and a jump in crime in this already violent country. Many voters are turning to the fringey Bolsonaro, which has praised Brazil’s bloody dictatorship, which in turn is spurring leftist voters to rally even more around candidates like Haddad.

To win the race and lead Latin America’s largest country by area, humans, and GDP, a candidate has to receive more than 50% of the votes in the first round of the election. Polls of voting intentions this past week showed Bolsonaro surging and Haddad stagnating. But analysts believe it’s unlikely Bolsonaro will win a knock-out in the first round. The two are then expected to face each other in a run-off vote on Oct. 28.