Conde dos Arcos Palace, seat of the Imperial Senate in Rio de Janeiro
, then Brazil's capital
Exterior view of the Senate chamber
The Federal Senate of Brazil was established as the Senate of the Empire by the Constitution of 1824, first enacted after the Declaration of Independence.
Following independence, in 1822, Emperor Pedro I ordered the convocation of a National Assembly to draft the country's first Constitution. Following several disagreements with the elected deputies (which included representatives from present-day Uruguay, then part of the Brazilian Empire under the name of Província Cisplatina), the Emperor dissolved the Assembly. In 1824, Pedro I implemented the first Constitution which established a Legislative branch with the Chamber of Deputies as the lower house, and the Senate as an upper house.
The first configuration of the Senate was a consulting body to the Emperor. Membership was for life and it was a place of great prestige, to which only a small part of the population could aspire.
Members of the Senate were elected, but they had to be at least 40 years old and have an annual income of 800,000 contos-de-réis, which limited candidates to wealthy citizens. Voters also faced an income qualification. Voting in an election for the Senate was limited to male citizens with an annual income of at least 200,000 contos-de-réis. Those who qualified for this did not vote directly for Senators; instead, they voted for candidates to be Senate electors. To be a Senate elector required an annual income of 400,000 contos-de-réis. Once elected, these electors would then vote for senator. The election itself would not result in a winner automatically. The three candidates receiving the most votes would make up what was called a "triple list", from which the Emperor would select one individual that would be considered "elected". The Emperor usually chose the candidate with the most votes, but it was within his discretion to select whichever of the three individuals listed. The unelected Princes of the Brazilian Imperial House were senators by right and would assume their seats in the Senate upon reaching age 25.
The original Senate had 50 members, representing all of the Empire's Provinces, each with a number of senators proportional to its population.
Following the adoption of the 1824 Constitution the first session of the Senate took place in May 1826. The Emperor had repeatedly delayed calling the first election, which had led to accusations that he would attempt to establish an absolutist government.
Currently, the Senate comprises 81 seats. Three Senators from each of the 26 states and three Senators from the Federal District are elected on a majority basis to serve eight-year terms. Elections are staggered so that two-thirds of the upper house is up for election at one time and the remaining one-third four years later. When one seat is up for election in each State, each voter casts one vote for the Senate; when two seats are up for election, each voter casts two votes, and the voter cannot give his two votes for the same candidate, but, in elections for the renewal of two-thirds of the Senate, each party can present two candidates for election. The candidate in each State and the Federal District (or the first two candidates, when two thirds of the seats are up for election) who achieve the greatest plurality of votes are elected.