Comparative Politics

The Unintended Consequences of Democratic Reforms: Electronic Voting and Criminal Violence in Brazil

Camilo Nieto-Matiz University of Notre Dame
Natán Skigin University of Notre Dame
This paper studies the impact of democratic reforms on the levels of criminal violence. Focusing on Brazil, we exploit the staggered implementation of electronic voting technology in 1998 and provide strong empirical evidence that democratizing reforms may significantly reduce local levels of conflict even in contexts of weak institutions and criminal structures. We argue that electronic voting decreased the levels of criminal conflict by invigorating political accountability and eroding the hegemony of political parties more likely to establish pacts with organized criminal groups. By implementing a regression discontinuity that exploits a population-based threshold, we find that violence diminished by 0.5 standard deviations in municipalities that adopted electronic voting. Moreover, these same municipalities experienced a 0.3 standard deviation decrease in electoral violence, but only in electoral years. Our paper shows how relatively cheap institutional reforms may curb violence and contributes to debates on democratic reforms, election violence, and criminal groups.