In Brazil, Amazon voters paddle canoes to floating polls

Raphael Alves

Iranduba (Brazil) (AFP) - It's Sunday morning on Lake Catalao in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, where the reflection of a fisherman's silhouette glimmers on the water.

But this morning, he's not casting his nets. He's casting his ballot at a floating polling station that has been set up in his village so he can take part along with 142 million other Brazilians in voting in the sprawling South American country's national elections.

The fisherman, 33-year-old Antonio Lopes da Silva, lives with his wife and four children in one of 106 floating cabins at the edge of this lake in the municipality of Iranduba in the northern state of Amazonas.

He has to paddle 10 minutes from his house to his polling station at the Our Lady of Aparecida school, which literally floats in the middle of the lake.

Inside is the only electronic voting system for the fishing community's 400 residents, 190 of whom are registered to vote.

"I've been working since dawn fishing, but I want to go vote quickly. I want to exercise my right to make our country a better place," he told AFP.

"I hope the country improves. We're always changing policies, but the country never gets better."

His wife Patricia, 38, failed to renew her voter registration in time, like 63 other voters in the fishing village who didn't manage to fulfill the requirements for a pilot biometric registration system.

Instead of voting, she stayed home preparing the fish they were going to eat for lunch.

- High-tech, Amazon style -

The biometric system lets voters cast their ballots with their fingerprints. The results are then sent by satellite to the state electoral authority.

The system was first rolled out at the last national elections in 2010.

Brazil, Latin America's largest democracy, has some of the most high-tech elections in the world, with more than 428,000 electronic voting stations.

Like Da Silva, the other voters in this fishing village took their canoes to get to the polls. After waiting in a short, fast-moving line, he cast his ballot without a hitch.

He declined to say whether he had voted for incumbent President Dilma Rousseff, the front-runner; rival candidates Aecio Neves, a center-right former governor; Amazon native Marina Silva, who entered the race with a bang but has since fallen back in the polls; or another of the 11 candidates vying for president.

"I voted my conscience. Now I'm going to go home and spend some time with my family, because later I have to go out fishing again. Here we work all day," he said, before hopping into his canoe and paddling off across the lake toward home.