Brazil's election court denies deal with military for parallel vote count

FILE PHOTO: Armed Forces representatives inspect the coding of electronic voting machines that will be used for elections in Brazil

SAO PAULO (Reuters) -Brazil's electoral authority on Monday said there was no deal for the military to conduct a parallel count during October's election, while a military source also said there was no plan for the vote count that President Jair Bolsonaro has pushed for.

The president, a far-right former army captain, has made unfounded accusations of electoral fraud and urged the armed forces to conduct their own vote count, as part of a campaign that critics warn is setting him up to refuse to concede defeat.

Bolsonaro currently trails in opinion polls to his leftist rival, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Bolsonaro's stance has prompted a delicate dance between the TSE, the ultimate arbiter of elections in Brazil, and the military during an increasingly fraught election that is providing the sternest test of Brazil's young democracy since the end of the 1964-85 military dictatorship.

The statement by the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) came after newspaper Folha de S.Paulo reported that military technicians made arrangements to visit 385 voting sites and take photos of the final readout from the ballot boxes, which would be sent to a cyber warfare unit in Brasilia to verify the results in real time.

The newspaper, citing unnamed military officials, said that Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes, currently the head of the TSE, had reached a deal with the armed forces on Aug. 31 allowing military technicians access to the results.

A senior army officer with knowledge of the talks between the TSE and the armed forces also denied the military planned a parallel count, but said it would check final readouts from a sample of electronic voting machines.

"The idea is to check a number of electronic voting machines that are statistically significant and viable to undertake," the officer said, requesting he not be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The final number of voting machines to be checked was set to be decided in a Tuesday meeting between the military and the TSE, the source said.

In its Monday statement, the TSE said there was no agreement with the Armed Forces to allow them real-time access to the data sent for the total vote count by the electoral authority.

Additionally, echoing the senior army officer who spoke with Reuters, the TSE added any person can go to polling booths and access the freely available final readouts to come up with their own count.

In a statement late Monday, the defense ministry said the Armed Forces had not requested access in real time to the voting data sent to the TSE for final counting.

The ministry said the armed forces had not sought to be protagonists in the inspection of the electronic voting system and will continue to act in strict compliance with the law which limits them to technical work in collaboration with the TSE.

(Reporting by Peter Frontini and Anthony BoadleWriting by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien, Aurora Ellis and Himani Sarkar)