SHINING THE LIGHT ON THE PRINCIPLES OF DEMOCRATIC ELECTIONS

Why do we need principles?

Most Americans would be surprised to learn that, currently, there is no unified set of principles that provide a foundation for our democratic elections process in 50 states and over 9000 voting jurisdictions. 

Only by establishing these principles will American citizens be able to effectively guide the urgently needed reform of our voting systems.

Through these principles:

  • Public oversight will prevent partisan, special interest, and for-profit corruption.
  • Transparency will not be sacrificed for efficiency.
  • Technology will support, not undermine, security.
  • Laws to protect voters and ballots will be effective and enforced.
  • Domestic and international observers will be able to effectively witness and protect the elections process.

American elections 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:

  • Maintain an accurate list of citizens who are qualified to vote.
  • Encourage every eligible voter to participate effectively.
  • Use equipment that reliably clarifies and registers the voter’s choices.
  • Handle close elections in a foreseeable and fair way.
  • Operate with equal effectiveness for every citizen and every community.
  • Reflect limited but responsible federal participation.

VOTING & COUNTING

The following principles and practices should guide reform for the casting and counting of votes:
 

PUBLIC CONTROL

According to Black Box Voting, there are 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 made, 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 must be done, 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

Verified Voting Foundation has identified the following principles to guide development of new voting systems.

  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.

VOTING RIGHTS AND ACCESS

The following principles should guide the development of voting rights and voter access.

EQUAL PARTICIPATION & ACCESS

  • If there is a system of voter registration, it should provide universal registration for all eligible voters, and all voters should have immediate and secure access to keep their registration up to date.

  • If you are a U.S. citizen, of voting age, and a resident of your jurisdiction, you should be able to vote without restriction.

  • A felony conviction and incarceration should not deprive any citizen of their right to vote.

 

PRIVACY

  • Ensuring and enforcing voter anonymity is required to prevent intimidation and vote selling.

  • Measures should be taken to prevent linking voted ballots to voters under any circumstances.

  • Military and overseas voters should never be forced to choose between privacy and expediting their ballot.

 

VOTER SUPPORT

  • Voters have the right to be served by professional poll workers and election administrators who are trained in the fair implementation of election laws and procedures.

  • Voters have the right to have information easily available explaining their rights as a voter.

  • All election workers and administrators should be sworn to a legally enforceable oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution, the state constitution, and the laws.