American elections need significant reform, driven by principles that uphold standards for best democratic practice.

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 reflect emerging agreement among experts across relevant fields:


VOTING & BALLOT COUNTING PRINCIPLES AND BEST PRACTICES

From National Election Defense Coalition

PUBLIC CONTROL

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)

TRANSPARENCY

  • All voting processes, aside from the secret casting of the ballot, should be accessible to political parties, candidates, and the public, either as witnesses or participants, without unreasonable or arbitrary barriers.

  • Election materials and voted ballots must be public records, accessible by public records request, at no cost.

  • National and international observers must be granted appropriate access without unreasonable or arbitrary barriers.

  • No paperless non-verifiable voting systems or privately controlled "proprietary" software should be permitted.

ACCURACY

  • Provide the voter with a way of marking the ballot that leads to results consistent with the voter’s desire.

  • Accurate precinct-based hand counting and statistically significant and secure machine auditing methods must be strictly maintained.

  • Public reporting of any discrepancies found during the manual count or audit, using the manual count to correct any initial reported results.

  • Verify the accuracy of polling place results that are communicated to central count locations.

SECURITY

Top principles of security:

  • Voting (marking the ballot) in private.

  • Casting (delivering to the ballot box) the ballots in public.

  • Counting ballots in public, before they are moved from public view.

  • Transport (chain of custody) of election materials by responsible officials sworn to an oath who should keep ballots in sight at all times and accompany them when they are transported. Transport could be under video surveillance. Seals and locks should not be depended on for ballot security, as all of them can be violated.

  • Storage of ballots and other election documents should be in a known public location under video surveillance.

BALANCE OF POWER

  • All processes that involve touching ballots and election materials must be done by at least two people of different party affiliations.

  • All recognized political parties should be represented on decision-making bodies for elections.

  • Lone partisan offices such as Secretary of State invite corruption and politicization and should not be in charge of administering elections.

  • Conflicts of interest must be prohibited—between officials and campaigns, as well as between officials and private voting technology vendors and consultants.

TIMELINESS

  • Accurate results at the appropriate time based on the requirements of transparency and security. Results should be announced at a time that does not compromise the accuracy and completeness of the counting process.

  • Announcing preliminary or unofficial results erodes election integrity. This includes media coverage before polls close.

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.

  6. Auditable: It should be easily and transparently auditable at the ballot level. It should: export a cast vote record (CVR) for every ballot; in a standard, open, machine-readable format; in a way that the original paper ballot corresponding to any CVR can be quickly and unambiguously identified, and vice versa.

  7. Open and Affordable: It should use commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware components and open-source software (OSS) in preference to proprietary hardware and proprietary software, especially when doing so will reduce costs, facilitate maintenance and customization, facilitate replacing failed or obsolete equipment, improve security or reliability, or facilitate adopting technological improvements quickly and affordably.

  8. Flexible: It should be able to create CVRs from ballots designed for currently deployed systems and it should be readily configurable to create CVRs for new ballot designs.

  9. Non-proprietary: It should be sufficiently open to allow a competitive market for support, including configuration, maintenance, integration, and customization.

  10. Usable: It should be usable by election officials: They should be able to configure, operate, and maintain the system, create ballots, tabulate votes, and audit the accuracy of the results without relying on external expertise or labor, even in small jurisdictions with limited staff.

 

PROCESS PRINCIPLES

From the Brennan Center

  • 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.

  • Require all voting machines to have an airgap requirement and no way to connect to the internet.

  • Pre and post-election auditing for all voting machines.

    • Conduct Logic and Accuracy testing on 100% of voting machines before an election.

    • Compare statistical sample of voting system totals to hand counts of paper ballots to minimize chance that outcome changing failure was missed.

    • Conduct and report audit results in public.

    • Ensure that if audit finds error, error can be fixed before certification of results.

  • Ban electronic return of voted ballots

  • Have a contingency plan and election day failsafe in place in every polling place in case of registration list or voting machine failure.

  • Work with the EAC to develop test reports and standards before buying or employing e-pollbooks.

  • Require election system vendors to report any cybersecurity breach to their facilities.