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‘Beheading’, Rule Manipulation and Fraud: The Approval of Election Results in Brazil, 1894–1930

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 September 2012

Abstract

Studies of electoral fraud tend to focus their analyses only on the pre-electoral or electoral phases. By examining the Brazilian First Republic (1889–1930), this article shifts the focus to a later phase, discussing a particular type of electoral fraud that has been little explored by the literature, namely, that perpetrated by the legislatures themselves during the process of giving final approval to election results. The Brazilian case is interesting because of a practice known as degola (‘beheading’) whereby electoral results were altered when Congress decided on which deputies to certify as duly elected. This has come to be seen as a widespread and standard practice in this period. However, this article shows that this final phase of rubber-stamping or overturning election results was important not because of the number of degolas, which was actually much lower than the literature would have us believe, but chiefly because of their strategic use during moments of political uncertainty. It argues that the congressional certification of electoral results was deployed as a key tool in ensuring the political stability of the Republican regime in the absence of an electoral court.

Spanish abstract

Los estudios sobre el fraude electoral tienden a enfocar su análisis sólo en las fases pre-electorales o electorales. Al examinar la Primera República Brasileña (1889–1930), este artículo mueve su enfoque hacia una fase posterior, discutiendo un tipo particular de fraude electoral que ha sido poco explorado por la literatura, es decir, el que ha sido perpetrado por los legisladores mismos durante el proceso de otorgar la aprobación final de las elecciones. El caso brasileño es interesante debido a la práctica conocida como degola o ‘descabezamiento’, en la cual los resultados electorales eran alterados cuando el Congreso decidía sobre qué diputados serían certificados como debidamente electos. Esto llegó a ser visto como una práctica generalizada y normal en ese periodo. Sin embargo, se muestra que esta fase final de sellar, o revertir, los resultados electorales fue importante no debido al número de degolas, que fue de hecho mucho más bajo de lo que la literatura nos hubiera hecho pensar, sino más que todo debido a su uso estratégico durante momentos de incertidumbre política. Entonces, se argumenta que la certificación del Congreso de los resultados electorales fue implementada como una herramienta clave para asegurar la estabilidad política del Régimen de la República en la ausencia de un tribunal electoral.

Portuguese abstract

Estudos sobre a fraude eleitoral tendem a situar a análise apenas no âmbito pré-eleitoral ou eleitoral. Partindo do caso brasileiro durante a Primeira Republica (1889–1930), este artigo desloca o foco para uma fase posterior, discutindo um tipo específico de fraude eleitoral pouco explorado pela literatura: aquela cometida no ato da certificação das eleições pelos próprios legislativos. O caso brasileiro é interessante, porque, de acordo com a visão tradicional, representaria um caso típico de mudanças dos resultados eleitorais no processo de verificação dos poderes – fenômeno conhecido no Brasil com o termo de degola. Mostraremos que o processo de verificação dos diplomas no âmbito nacional adquiria sua relevância não pelo volume das degolas promovidas (que foi menor do que a literatura nos leva a crer), mas sobretudo pelo seu uso estratégico, manifesto plenamente em momentos políticos críticos. Isso reforça a hipótese de que a estabilidade política do regime era garantida independentemente da ausência de uma justiça eleitoral que centralizasse o processo de certificação dos resultados.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012

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References

1 Lessa, Renato, A invenção republicana (Rio de Janeiro: Vértice, 1988), p. 111Google Scholar.

2 Sabato, Hilda, Ciudadanía política y formación de las naciones (México: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1999)Google Scholar. For a broad analysis and discussion of election fraud in Latin America during this period, see Posada-Carbó, Eduardo (ed.), Elections Before Democracy: The History of Elections in Europe and Latin America (London: Macmillan, 1996)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and ‘Electoral Juggling: A Comparative History of the Corruption of Suffrage’, Journal of Latin American Studies, 32: 3 (2000), pp. 611–44. Literature on Latin American case studies is more extensive. See Posada-Carbó, Eduardo, ‘Limits of Power: Elections Under the Conservative Hegemony in Colombia, 1886–1930’, Hispanic American Historical Review, 77: 2 (1997), pp. 245–79CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Lehouq, Fabrice E. and Molina, Iván, Stuffing the Ballot Box: Fraud, Electoral Reform, and Democratization in Costa Rica (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Telarolli, Rodolpho, Eleições e fraudes eleitorais na República Velha (São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1982)Google Scholar; Marta Irurozqui, ‘Que vienen los mazorqueros: usos y abusos discursivos de la corrupción y la violencia en las elecciones bolivianas, 1884–1925’, in Sabato, Ciudadanía política, pp. 295–317; Alonso, Paula, Between Revolution and the Ballot Box: The Origins of the Argentine Radical Party (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Valenzuela, Samuel, ‘La Ley Electoral de 1890 y la democratización del régimen político chileno’, Estudios Públicos, 71 (1998), pp. 265–96Google Scholar; and ‘Building Aspects of Democracy Before Democracy: Electoral Practices in Nineteenth Century Chile’, in Posada-Carbó, Elections Before Democracy, pp. 223–57. For a summary of the debate, see Lehoucq, Fabrice E., ‘Electoral Fraud: Causes, Types, and Consequences’, Annual Review of Political Science, 6 (2003), pp. 233–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3 Sabato, Hilda, ‘On Political Citizenship in Nineteenth-Century Latin America’, American Historical Review, 106: 4 (2001), pp. 1290–315CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 For further details see Jesus Orozco Henriquez, ‘El contencioso electoral, la calificación electoral’, in Dieter Nohlen, Daniel Zovatto, Jesus Orozco and José Thompson, Tratado de derecho electoral comparado de América Latina (Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2007), pp. 1152–288. On the causes of the shift in the model that transfers the decision to validate election results to the judiciary, see Lehoucq, Fabrice E., ‘Can Parties Police Themselves? Electoral Governance and Democratization’, International Political Science Review, 23: 1 (2002), pp. 2946CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 Anderson, Margaret L., Practicing Democracy: Elections and Political Culture in Imperial Germany (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000), p. 32Google Scholar.

6 Lechouq, ‘Can Parties Police Themselves?’, p. 32.

7 This is Lehoucq's definition; see ‘Electoral Fraud’, p. 235. See also Przeworski, Adam, Democracy and the Limits of Self-Government (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), p. 119CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

8 Schedler, Andreas, ‘The Nested Game of Democratization by Elections’, International Political Science Review, 23: 1 (2002), p. 105CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

9 Posada-Carbó, ‘Electoral Juggling’, p. 630.

10 Sarah Birch, ‘Electoral Corruption’, in Todd Landman and Neil Robinson (eds.), The Sage Handbook of Comparative Politics (London: Sage, 2009), p. 396.

11 See the classic text by Sartori, Giovanni, ‘Concept Misformation in Comparative Politics’, American Political Science Review, 64: 4 (1970), pp. 1033–53CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

12 Przeworski, Democracy, p. 119.

13 In the First Republic, between 1889 and 1930, nearly 40 laws and decrees were published regulating the electoral process. For a general overview of the evolution of the Brazilian electoral system, see Kinzo, Maria D'Alva, Representação política e sistema eleitoral no Brasil (São Paulo: Símbolo, 1980)Google Scholar; and Nicolau, Jairo, História do voto (Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, 2002)Google Scholar. In relation to the National Congress, the key text is de Holanda, Cristina Buarque, Modos de representação política: o experimento da Primeira República (Belo Horizonte: UFMG, 2009)Google Scholar.

14 According to the 1891 Constitution, representatives served a three-year term and senators a nine-year term, while the president of the country was directly elected every four years.

15 Article 28, 1891 Constitution.

16 Until Law no. 1,269, dated 15 Nov. 1904, better known as the Rosa e Silva Law, the populous states were divided into electoral constituencies of three representatives apiece, with the non-populous states entitled to elect up to five MPs in total, forming a single constituency. The 1904 law increased the single state-wide constituency representation to seven, and allowed five representatives per electoral district for states subdivided into several constituencies.

17 Law no. 3,207, dated 27 Dec. 1916, established that election votes were to be counted in the state capital and not in the constituency. The law was innovative in requiring that the chairman of the election board be a federal judge, aided by a representative of the Public Prosecutor's Office and the Supreme Court when counting ballots. This was the first step towards recognising the judiciary as the body vested with authority for counting votes, as later introduced into the 1932 Electoral Code.

18 Article 18, 1891 Constitution.

19 The imperial Constitution of 1824 included certification of electoral results with due observance of the standing orders of each house of Congress, and this is indeed how legislative certification of votes was conducted during the empire.

20 Nevertheless, MPs were not allowed to sit on the committee analysing the election result for the state they themselves represented. Up until 1904 there were five investigation committees; this increased to six with the change in the standing order that year.

21 Vieira, José, Cadeia Velha, memória da Câmara dos Deputados (Brasília: Senado Federal, 1980), p. 57Google Scholar.

22 Article 1, 1891 Regimento Interno da Câmara dos Deputados (Standing Order of the Chamber of Deputies, RICD).

23 Sales, Campos, Da propaganda à presidência (Brasília: Senado Federal, 1983), p. 120Google Scholar.

24 Article 2, 1891 RICD.

25 Walter Porto defines duplicate election certificates as ‘The name for a copy of the so-called authentic election minutes received by the election boards, showing that there were serious disparities between the elections and the separate scrutiny conducted by a competing group.’ See Porto, Walter, Dicionário do voto (São Paulo: Imprensa Oficial, 2000), p. 159Google Scholar.

26 For more on the 1900 elections, see Eduardo Kugelmas, ‘A Primeira República no período de 1891 a 1909’, in Paula Beiguelman (ed.), Pequenos estudos de ciência política (São Paulo: Pioneira, 1968); and, more recently, Backes, Ana L., Fundamentos da ordem republicana: repensando o pacto Campos Sales (Brasília: Senado Federal, 2006)Google Scholar. Francisco Glicério had tried to form a national party, the PRF, in the mid-1890s, but his attempt had failed by the end of the century. The result was a party system built around state-based political parties that remained in place until the end of the First Republic, in 1930. Each state had a Republican Party opposed, with some degree of success, by other party forces such as the conservatives and liberals. For an overview of the evolution of Brazilian parties to the present day, see Rodrigo Sa Patto Motta, Introdução à história dos partidos políticos brasileiros (Belo Horizonte: UFMG, 2009).

27 Article 1, 1901 RICD.

28 Article 4, 1901 RICD.

29 Unlike the 1899 reform of the standing order, the 1904 reform was more of a procedural change related to other organisational aspects of legislative process, such as the work of the house committees and the way bills proceeded. Other standing orders were published after 1904, but nothing changed in terms of the process of certifying election certificates.

30 Article 102, Election Law no. 1,269 of 1904.

31 See Bello, José M., História da República (São Paulo: Companhia Editora Nacional, 1954)Google Scholar; Fernando H. Cardoso, ‘Dos governos militares a Prudente-Campos Sales’, in Boris Fausto (ed.), O Brasil republicano (Rio de Janeiro: Bertrand, 1997); Fausto, Boris, História do Brasil (São Paulo: EDUSP, 2003)Google Scholar; and Maria do Carmo Campelo de Souza, ‘O processo político-partidário na República e a Revolução de 1930’, in Carlos Guilherme Mota (ed.), Brasil em perspectiva (São Paulo: Difel 1973).

32 Souza, ‘O processo político-partidário’, p. 183.

33 This quote is from Humberto de Campos, Diário secreto, vol. 1 (Rio de Janeiro: Cruzeiro, 1954), p. 94, but the author himself attributes it to Medeiros de Albuquerque in an article published in the Jornal do Commércio.

34 It is this aspect that is the focus of this article. There is less agreement about other aspects of the 1899 reform – for example, about how Campos Sales managed to find congressional support to approve the reform. Contrary to the traditional viewpoint, which sees Campos Sales’ discussions with the governors of the most important states as determinant, Backes has convincingly argued that a deal was struck not merely between certain governors, but also with the historic republicans in relation to the presidential manifesto for the modernisation of the country. See Backes, Fundamentos da ordem republicana.

35 de Carvalho, José Murilo, Pontos e bordados: escritos de história e política (Belo Horizonte: UFMG, 2005), p. 136Google Scholar.

36 Fausto, História do Brasil, p. 259.

37 Assis J. Brasil, ‘Democracia representativa – do voto e do modo de votar’, in Paulo Brossard (ed.), Idéias políticas de Assis Brasil (Brasília: Senado Federal, 1990), p. 140.

38 Lessa, A invenção republicana, p. 106.

39 Guanabara, Alcindo, A presidência Campos Sales (Brasília: Senado Federal, 2002), pp. 78–9Google Scholar.

40 In this article we focus on the main elections for members of Brazil's Chamber of Deputies held every three years, disregarding by-elections after the death or resignation of an incumbent.

41 See Leal, Victor Nunes, Coronelismo, enxada e voto (Rio de Janeiro: Nova Fronteira, 1997), p. 256Google Scholar; Carvalho, Pontos e bordados, p. 136; Nicolau, História do voto, p. 34; and Porto, Walter C., A mentirosa urna (São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 2004), p. 114Google Scholar.

42 Carone, Edgar, A República Velha, vol. 1: Instituições e classes sociais (São Paulo: Difusão Editora, 1972), p. 307Google Scholar.

43 Lustick, Ian S., ‘History, Historiography, and Political Science: Multiple Historical Records and the Problem of Selection Bias’, American Political Science Review, 90: 3 (1996), pp. 605–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

44 Studying electoral fraud by examining the petitions presented to Congress is not uncommon. See Anderson, Practicing Democracy, for Germany, and Lehoucq and Molina, Stuffing the Ballot Box, for Costa Rica. For the case of the United States, see Jenkins, Jeffery A., ‘Partisanship and Contested Election Cases in the House of Representatives, 1789–2002’, Studies in American Political Development, 18: 2 (2004), pp. 112–35Google Scholar; and Bensel, Richard Franklin, The American Ballot Box in the Mid-Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For France, see the classic work by Charnay, J. P., Les scrutins politiques en France de 1815 á 1962: contestations et invalidations (Paris: Fondation Nationale des Sciences politiques, 1964)Google Scholar. For Italy and Spain, see Ranzato, Gabriele, ‘La forja de la soberanía nacional: lãs elecciones em los sistemas liberales italiano y español’, Ayer, 3 (2001), pp. 115–38Google Scholar.

45 Our definition is almost the same as Walter Porto's in his Dicionário do voto, p. 157, where he defines degola as ‘non-approval, and consequent non-certification by the National Congress’ Investigation Committees, of candidates that the general public thought had been duly elected’. The emphasis on the general public is, in our opinion, erroneous. As we saw earlier, the official and legally valid certificate was that issued by the local election board and had nothing to do with public opinion. For this reason, our definition emphasises the role of the election boards.

46 The only work prior to this that has attempted to systematise the volume of degolas is Maria C. M. Cortez, ‘O mecanismo das comissões verificadoras de poderes: estabilidade e dominação política, 1894–1930’, unpubl. Master's diss., Universidade de Brasília, 1986, which reports that 301 elected officials were not certified during that period. The author does not question the small number of candidates beheaded at the time, but does note that no beheadings occurred between 1927 and 1930.

47 Carone, Edgar, A República Velha, vol. 2: Evolução política (São Paulo: Difusão Editora, 1971), p. 416Google Scholar.

48 Obviously this does not mean that, at that time, the final choice of deputy was not politically motivated. In the case of Minas Gerais, see the testimony of the rapporteur of the investigation committee, who relates the pressure from the leader of the majority to favour certain MPs. Humberto de Campos, Diário secreto, vol. 2, pp. 24–6.

49 Annals of the Chamber of Deputies, 28 April 1930, p. 7539. This echoes Walter Porto, who, citing the memoirs of João Neves da Fountoura, states that the beheadings occurred at state level. See Porto, A mentirosa, p. 114.

50 Woodard, James, A Place in Politics: São Paulo, Brazil, from Seigneurial Republicanism to Regionalist Revolt (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009), p. 169CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

51 The literature considers these states important given their strategic role in the Republican political regime. The operating consensus among the states was that the choice of national president was a decision made by São Paulo and Minas Gerais. For more details, see the classic works of Joseph Love, São Paulo na federação brasileira 1889–1937: a locomotiva (Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra, 1982); and O regionalismo gaúcho (São Paulo: EDUSP, 1975). For Minas Gerais, see Wirth, John, Minas Gerais na federação brasileira, 1889–1937 (Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra, 1982)Google Scholar; and for the case of Pernambuco, see Levine, Robert M., Pernambuco na federação brasileira, 1889–1937: a velha usina (Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra, 1980)Google Scholar. The case of Bahia is investigated in Pang, Eul Sôo, Coronelismo e oligarquias, 1889–1943: a Bahia na Primeira República brasileira (Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira, 1979)Google Scholar.

52 For greater detail, see Franco, Afonso A. de M., Rodrigues Alves: apogeu e declínio do presidencialismo (Rio de Janeiro: Olympio, 1973)Google Scholar.

53 We refer to classic instruments used to rig the elections such as election falsification, closing voting sections, forging board members’ and electors’ signatures, fraud at the ballot boxes and, of course, more radical means such as physical violence. All of these mechanisms are described in Telarolli, Eleiçoes e fraudes. For a more recent approach, see Woodard, A Place in Politics, in which the author describes the use of these mechanisms in São Paulo.

54 See , Carone, A República Velha, vol. 2. For the Empire, an essential reference is Richard Graham, Patronage and Politics in Nineteenth-Century Brazil (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1990)Google Scholar.

55 Rifan Sueth, José Candido and Franco, Sebastião Pimentel, ‘A dependência do Espírito Santo entre três mandatos e duas políticas: as administrações Moniz Freire e Jerônimo Monteiro’, Revista Agora, 2: 2 (2005), pp. 135Google Scholar. For information on the development of the political parties in Espírito Santo, see Saletto, Nadia, Partidos políticos e eleições no Espírito Santo da Primeira República (Vitória: EDUFES, 1998)Google Scholar.

56 See Love, São Paulo.

57 On this point, see Casalecchi, José E., O Partido Republicano Paulista: política e poder (1889–1926) (São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1987)Google Scholar.

58 Sá Pinto, Suruma C., A correspondência de Nilo Peçanha e a dinâmica política na Primeira República (Rio de Janeiro: Arquivo Público, 1998), p. 53Google Scholar.

59 Fausto, História do Brasil; Bethell, Leslie, ‘Politics in Brazil: From Elections without Democracy to Democracy without Citizenship’, Daedalus, 129: 2 (2000), pp. 127Google Scholar.

60 See Carone, Evolução política, vol. 2, for further contemplation in this regard.

61 Unfortunately, the challenges contained in the Annals frequently do not distinguish between parties or factions, thus making it difficult to clearly ascertain which forces are the opposition and which support the government or a given politician.

62 For more details on the case of Mato Grosso, see Carone, Evolução política, vol. 2, pp. 177–84. Regarding oligarchies in the state, see Frank, Zephyr Lake, ‘Elite Families and Oligarchic Politics on the Brazilian Frontier: Mato Grosso, 1889–1937’, Latin American Research Review, 36: 1 (2001), pp. 4974Google Scholar. A claim of interference by the ministry of finance was submitted by the challenger Luiz Adolpho. See Annals of the Chamber of Deputies, 22 June 1900, pp. 405–12.

63 Bello, História da República, p. 220. Interventions occurred in a number of states in the north and north-east.

64 Carone, Evolução política, vol. 2, p. 283.

65 Souza, ‘O processo político-partidário’, p. 208.

66 Carone, Evolução política, vol. 2, p. 283.

67 Lessa, A invenção republicana, p. 106. Along these lines, see also the views expressed years earlier by Maria D'Alva Kinzo, who argued that the third ballot served to exclude any dissidents who did not have the support of the governors but who, sustained by their clientelistic footholds, managed to send their MPs to Congress. See Kinzo, Representação política, pp. 78–80.

68 Franco, Rodrigues Alves, p. 722; Faoro, Raimundo, Os donos do poder: formação do patronato político brasileiro (São Paulo: Globo, 1975), p. 628Google Scholar.

69 As Adam Przeworski reminds us, ‘in almost all of its forms, fraudulent activity is secret’; see Przeworski, Democracy, p. 119.

70 Lehoucq, ‘Can Parties Police Themselves?’, p. 35.

71 Bolivar Lamounier, ‘A justiça eleitoral e o desenvolvimento da democracia: uma perspectiva histórica’, in Eliana Passarelli (ed.), Justiça eleitoral: uma retrospectiva (São Paulo: Imprensa Oficial do Estado de São Paulo, 2005), pp. 37–42.

72 For a defence of this latter position, see Ziblatt, Daniel, ‘Shaping Democratic Practice and the Causes of Electoral Fraud: The Case of Nineteenth-Century Germany’, American Political Science Review, 103: 1 (2009), pp. 121CrossRefGoogle Scholar. The author shows that in Germany, the most problematic elections were those held in districts with high levels of economic inequality.

73 Woodard, A Place in Politics, p. 42.

74 Gomes, Ângela de C. and Abreu, Martha, ‘A “nova” velha República: um pouco de história e historiografia’, Tempo, 13: 26 (2009), p. 7Google Scholar.

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