Give the Public Access
Giving the public access to more and better election data will improve transparency. Open data policies and freedom of information laws are the key. Open Election Initiative supports public access and election monitoring in the following areas.
Accurate election results and data should be published in a timely fashion, as granular as possible—down to the precinct, voting machine, and even ballot level. Cast vote records and ballot images from optical scanners should be included, along with information about the networks over which election results are transmitted.
Transparent procedures must be in place so that citizens and stakeholders can assess the recording and tabulation of votes. The software that runs electronic voting machines should be open source, nonproprietary, and published. It should provide mathematical proof of accuracy.
A record of everyone who touches electronic voting machines, and the maintenance or service they provide, should be made public, including when service is rendered over a network. Data should include timestamps, along with copies of software patches, updates, or configurations. A public registry should be maintained of everyone who has access to voting machines.
Paper often provides the only reliable record of what happened during an election. Citizens must be allowed appropriate access to ballots, voting machine printouts, poll books, and other paper audit trails to conduct independent monitoring.
Transparent procedures must be in place so that citizens and stakeholders can assess the procurement of election technologies. When negotiating new equipment purchases, districts should require that their citizens have access to and ownership over source code. RFPs should require voting systems to use common data formats.
Open Election Data
Standardization of election data has the potential to improve independent election monitoring and public oversight. NIST and IEEE are working on common data formats for election results. These interoperability reforms would apply across voting machines and political boundaries, enhancing election integrity by reducing complexity and reliance on proprietary formats.
National Democratic Institute has also contributed to advancing election transparency through its Open Election Data Initiative. NDI researchers outline nine key principles for effective open election data:
- Timely: Made available as quickly as necessary for it to be useful.
- Granular: Available at the finest possible level of detail.
- Accessible: Available free on the Internet.
- Complete: Available in bulk, without omissions.
- Analyzable: Available in a machine-readable format that can be easily analyzed.
- Nonproprietary: In a format over which no entity has exclusive control.
- Nondiscriminatory: Available to any individual or organization without limitations.
- Unrestricted: Open for reuse and redistribution for any purpose.
- Permanent: Available via a stable Internet location for an indefinite period.
“Increased access to election data allows citizens to see what is right and what is wrong with election processes and to make improvements,” said Michelle Brown, senior advisor for elections and political processes at NDI.