Principles & Practices for Democratic Elections

American elections need significant reform


American elections practices currently do not meet the requirements of the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation, or the standards set forth by the National Commission on Federal Election Reform.

The following lists of Best Practices reflect emerging agreement among experts across relevant fields



Four essential ingredients of democratic elections that must be visible to the public:

  • Who can vote (the voters list)

  • Who voted (the polling place sign-in book)

  • Whether the ballots counted are same ones as were cast (chain of custody)

  • How the count was conducted, and how it was validated (public count)


  • All voting processes, aside from the secret casting of the ballot, should be accessible to political



From National Election Defense Coalition


new voting systems

From Verified Voting Foundation

  1. Paper: It should use human-readable marks on paper as the official record of voter preferences and as the official medium to store votes.

  2. Accessible: It should be accessible to voters with disabilities, and in all mandated languages.

  3. Voter Verifiable: It should provide voters the means and opportunity to verify that the human-readable marks correctly represent their intended selections, before casting the ballot.

  4. Anonymous: It should preserve vote anonymity: It should not be possible to link any voter to his or her selections, when the system is used appropriately. It should be difficult or impossible to compromise or waive voter anonymity accidentally or deliberately. No voter should be able to prove how he or she voted.

  5. Standardized: It should export contest results in a standard, open, machine-readable format.

  • Federal, State and Local funders should provide consistent support to maintain, secure and regularly upgrade election system infrastructure as needed.

  • Election Jurisdictions should conduct regular audits, penetration tests and threat assessments of all websites, networks, firewalls and election systems.

  • When vulnerabilities are identified, make needed changes and apply basic cybersecurity best practices across systems.

  • Require state voter registration databases to meet the NIST cybersecurity framework.

  • All voting machines should be software independent and auditable. Currently, this means all systems should use voter marked paper ballots.


process principles

From the Brennan Center


state audit laws

All elections should be audited to ensure the integrity of democracy.

All elections should be audited to ensure the integrity of democracy.

Optical scan vote-counting systems and Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) machines have known error rates and security vulnerabilities that warrant meaningful procedures to check the accuracy of the vote count.

It is particularly important to compare voting machine results with a manual count of paper ballots. Reviewing paper records is the only way to ensure that the audit is independent of the original tabulation system.