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The Brazilian Electoral System

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The Political System of Brazil


The article by Jairo Nicolau and Julia Stadler presents the electoral system which is closely associated with how the executive and the legislative powers operate. The Brazilian system of open list proportional representation has often been characterized as a major political and institutional barrier and accordingly stood in the center of the frequently discussed extensive political reform (reforma política). The article is an introduction to the complexity of the Brazilian electoral system and explains its most important rules, system components and the main reform approaches since the 1988 Constitution. According to the authors, the debate about the need for a comprehensive reform is as old as the system itself and is demanded by representatives across the entire political spectrum. Neither Cardoso nor Lula or Rousseff tackled the reform. Nonetheless, the authors conclude that the absence of this reform should not be understood as an inability to reform.

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  1. 1.

    For a compendium of Brazilian electoral data since 1998 see Dos Santos (2002, in particular Chapters I–IV).

  2. 2.

  3. 3.

  4. 4.

    For an introductory analysis of compulsory voting in Brazil see Power (2008).

  5. 5.

    For an introduction into Brazil’s electoral history see Nicolau (2002, 2012).

  6. 6., accessed: 08/11/2013.

  7. 7.

    Since then only two significant changes have been made: the criteria that requires the distribution of mandates that are not occupied in the first stage (1950); and the exclusion of blank votes (votos em branco) from the calculation of electoral quota (1998).

  8. 8.

    When voting, the voter must manually enter the number of the desired candidate or of the desired list. At no point has Brazil had a ballot paper that included the name of all candidates. On the possible effects of this kind of voting act see Nicolau (2007a, 2007b), Stadler (2008).

  9. 9.

    See Nohlen (2007: 117) for more detail.

  10. 10.

    In this example we apply the current rule that does not consider blank votes for the calculation of the electoral quota. In 1986 this rule was not yet in place.

  11. 11.

    For example, in 2002 Carneiro was elected to the House of Representatives with 1.5 million votes in São Paulo. With this number of votes he helped a further five candidates with a poor number of votes from his party (PRONA) to win seats.

  12. 12.

    In 2010 this number was ca. 137 million. This is in contrast to other countries with an open list system (see

  13. 13.

    In Brazil there are sometimes very surprising electoral coalition constellations. There has therefore been an attempt to contain this through the verticalização regulation. See Samuels (2000) and Chap. 9.

  14. 14.

    The reader is reminded of the question of the election recommendation, which was made in the second round of the 2010 presidential election. The Green Party (PV) could not agree and did not make an official election recommendation for either José Serra (PSDB) or Dilma Roussef (PT). Individual members did, however, provide recommendations and these were not identical.

  15. 15.

    See Samuels (2006) for discussion of the size of and distribution of seats within the House of Representatives.

  16. 16.

    São Paulo is the only state with 70 seats.

  17. 17.

    According to Samuels, disproportionality has existed since the Empire and was “institutionalized” in the 1891 Constitution, which provided that each state would receive a minimum of four representatives.

  18. 18.

    In Brazil the basic type of electoral system has been modified in the Constitution and requires a qualified majority of 3/5ths. All other elements such as the open list and the counting procedure are simple laws and can be changed with a simple majority.

  19. 19.

    There are obviously further important points such as, for example, rules for the coherence of electoral alliances (verticalização) and party discipline (fidelidade partidária). See also Chap. 9.

  20. 20.

    Katz (2005: 74) actually speaks of “fashions” and describes the electoral system as a 1990s fashion.

  21. 21.

    In the 2012 municipal elections for mayor, candidate and incumbent Eduardo Paes declared to have spent R$21,208,741.10 on his campaign (, accessed 06.11.2013).

  22. 22.

    It was chaired by the Member of Parliament for the state of Rio de Janeiro, Alexandre Cardoso (PSB) and the speaker was Ronaldo Caiado (PFL) from Goiás, for which reason the proposal was often called Lei Caiado (Caiado law).

  23. 23., accessed: 07/11/2013.

  24. 24., accessed: 07/11/2013.

  25. 25.

    See Nicolau (2007c) for an overview of the voting behavior of the parties.

  26. 26.

    This position is the result of a consensus between the two strongest streams within the PT. See: and


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Nicolau, J., Stadler, J. (2016). The Brazilian Electoral System. In: de la Fontaine, D., Stehnken, T. (eds) The Political System of Brazil. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.

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