Election Terminology Glossary

This glossary contains election terms including those used in the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines 2.0 (VVSG 2.0) requirements and glossary and in the NIST Common Data Format (CDF) specifications. The glossary was built via a joint effort by The Democracy Fund, the VVSG Election Modeling public working group, NIST, and other individuals in the election community. The Democracy Fund in particular has recognized that a glossary of common election terms would help states and others working in elections to all “speak the same language.” The glossary provides synonyms and as much as is possible, descriptions of how a term’s meaning may differ depending on its usage across different states and territories.

absentee ballot

Ballot used for absentee voting.

Synonyms: mail ballot, postal ballot

absentee voting

Voting that is typically unsupervised at a location chosen by the voter either before or on election day.

Synonyms: all-mail voting, mail voting, postal voting, vote-by-mail

access control

The process of granting or denying specific requests to:

acceptance testing

Examination of a voting system and by the purchasing election jurisdiction to validate:


Measurable characteristics that indicate the degree to which a system is available to, and usable by, individuals with disabilities. The most common disabilities include those associated with vision, hearing, mobility, and cognition.


Formal recognition that a laboratory is competent to carry out specific tests or calibrations.

accreditation body

  1. Authoritative body that provides accreditation.
  2. Independent organization responsible for assessing the performance of other organizations against a recognized standard, and
  3. formally confirming the status of those that meet the standard.

activation device

Programmed device that creates credentials necessary to begin a voting session using a specific ballot style. Examples include electronic poll books and card activators that contain credential information necessary to determine the appropriate ballot style for the voter.

active period

Span of time during which a vote-capture device either is ready to begin a voting session or is in use during a voting session.


Process of resolving flagged cast ballots to reflect voter intent. Common reasons for flagging include:

adjudication-required ballot

A ballot that contains contest selections that require adjudication.


A voting system user with the highest level of access.

Synonyms: admin, highest level of authorized user

air gap

A physical separation between systems that requires data to be moved by some external, manual procedure.

alert time

During a voting session, the amount of time that a voting device will wait for detectible voter activity after issuing an alert before going into an inactive state requiring election worker intervention.

alternative format

The ballot or accompanying information is said to be in an alternative format if it is presented in non-standard ballot language and format. Examples include, but are not limited to, languages other than English, Braille, ASCII text, large print, recorded audio.

appropriate mark

An expected mark made according to the ballot instructions.

approval voting

A vote variation used for elections in which each voter may “approve” of (that is, select) any number of candidates. Typically, the winner(s) is the most-approved candidate(s).

Synonyms: equal-and-even cumulative voting, proportional voting

archival media

Storage media that is designed to preserve content for an extended period of time with minimal data corruption or loss.

assistive technology

A device that improves or maintains the capabilities of people with disabilities (such as no vision, low vision, mobility, or cognitive). These devices include headsets, keypads, software, sip-and-puff, and voice synthesizers.

asymmetric cryptography

Encryption system that uses a public and private key pair for cryptographic operation. The private key is generally stored in a user’s digital certificate and used typically to decrypt or digitally sign data. The public key is used typically to encrypt the data or verify its digital signatures. The keys could be used interchangeably as needed, that is, a public key can be used to decrypt data and the private key can be used to encrypt the data.

audio format

A display format in which contest options and other information are communicated through sound and speech.

Synonyms: audio ballot


  1. Systematic, independent, documented process for obtaining records, statements of fact, or other relevant information and assessing them objectively to determine the extent to which specified requirements are fulfilled.
  2. Verification of statistical or exact agreement of records from different processes or subsystems of a voting system.
  3. A review of a system and its controls to determine its operational status and the accuracy of its outputs.

audit device

Voting device dedicated exclusively to independently verifying or assessing the voting system’s performance.

audit trail

Information recorded during election activities to reconstruct steps followed or to later verify actions taken with respect to the voting system. Audit trails may include event logs, paper records, error messages, and reports.


Verifying the identity of a user, process, or device, often as a prerequisite to allowing access to resources in an information system.


Presentation of the contest options for a particular voter.

ballot counting logic

The software logic that

ballot data

A list of contests and associated options that may appear on a ballot for a particular election.

ballot display format

The concrete presentation of the contents of a ballot or other information for the voter or election pfficial appropriate to the particular voting technology being used. The contents may be rendered using various methods of presentation (visual or audio), language, or graphics.

ballot image

Archival digital image (e.g. JPEG, PDF, etc. ) captured from one or more sides of a paper ballot cast by an individual voter.

ballot instructions

Information provided to the voter that describes the procedure for marking the ballot. This information may appear directly on the paper or electronic ballot or may be provided separately.

ballot manifest

A catalog prepared by election officials listing all the physical paper ballots and their locations in sequence.

ballot marking device

A device that:

Synonyms: BMD, EBM, electronic ballot marker

ballot measure

A question that appears on a ballot with options, usually in the form of an approval or rejection.

Synonyms: ballot issue, ballot proposition, ballot question, referendum

ballot measure option

A contest option that specifies a response to a ballot measure.

ballot on demand®

A process that produces a paper ballot of the required ballot style that meets a specific voter’s needs. The use of this process requires:

Note: “ballot on demand” is a registered trademark of ES&S.

Synonyms: BOD

ballot production

Process of generating ballots for presentation to voters, for example, printing paper ballots or configuring the ballot presentation for an electronic display.

ballot rotation

The process of varying the order of listed candidates within a contest. This allows each candidate to appear first on the list of candidates an approximately equal number of times across different ballot styles or election districts.

ballot secrecy

A goal of voting systems to ensure that no contest selections can be associated with a voter.

ballot style

Ballot data that has been put into contest order for a particular precinct or precinct split and considers a particular set of voter situations. Voter situations include party affiliation (for closed primaries), and age of the voter (in states that permit 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections), among others.


An optical, machine-readable representation of data as a sequence of bars and spaces that conform to accepted standards. Linear (1d) barcode standards include UPC, EAN and 128. QR is an example of a 2d barcode standard.

barcode reader

Device used to scan barcodes and convert the encoded information into a usable format. Barcode readers are used to scan codes on a variety of election materials including ballots, driver’s licenses, voter ID cards, voter information packets, envelopes, and other election documents.

baseline voting

A vote variation in which the candidate with the most votes wins. In single-seat contests, the voter may only select one contest option. In multi-seat contests for n seats, the voter may select up to n contest options.

Synonyms: Plurality voting


A collection of paper ballots gathered as a group for tabulation or for auditing.

batch-fed scanner

An electronic voting device that:

Synonyms: CCOS, central tabulator, central-count optical scanner, high-speed optical scanner


Quantitative point of reference to which the measured performance of a system or device may be compared.

blank ballot

An issued ballot without any selections made.

Synonyms: unmarked ballot


A wireless protocol that allows two similarly equipped devices to communicate with each other within a short distance, e.g., 30 ft.

callable unit

(Of a software program or logical design) Function, method, operation, subroutine, procedure, or analogous structural unit that appears within a module.


Person contending in a contest for office. A candidate may be explicitly presented as one of the contest options or may be a write-in candidate.

candidate option

A contest option that is associated with a candidate.


The process of compiling, reviewing, and validating election returns that forms the basis of the official results by a political subdivision.


(v) The final action a voter takes in selecting contest options and irrevocably confirming their intent to vote as selected.

cast ballot

Ballot in which the voter has taken final action in selecting contest options and irrevocably confirmed their intent to vote as selected.

Synonyms: voted ballot

cast vote record

Archival tabulatable record of a set of contest selections produced by a single voter as interpreted by the voting system.

Synonyms: CVR

central reporting device

Electronic voting device that consolidates and reports vote totals from multiple precincts at a central location.

certification testing

Testing of a voting system performed by a testing authority (such as the EAC or a state) to ensure that the system meets the requirements defined in the standards being tested against in the manner specified in its product documentation.


Data or information in its encrypted form.

closed primary

Partisan primary election in which the voter receives a ballot containing only those party-specific contests pertaining to the political party with which the voter is affiliated, along with non-party-specific contests presented at the same election. Unaffiliated voters may be permitted to vote only on non-party-specific contests.

combined precinct

Two or more precincts treated as a single precinct for a specific election.

Synonyms: consolidated precinct, super precinct


Hardware or software components that are widely available for purchase and can be integrated into special-purpose systems.

Synonyms: COTS

common data format

Standard and practice of creating and storing data in a common, described format that can be read by other systems.

Synonyms: CDF

Common Industry Format

Format used for usability test reporting. The format is described in ISO/IEC 25062:2006 “Common Industry Format (CIF) for Usability Test Reports,” one of a group of usability standards. CIF is the format required for usability test reporting.

Synonyms: CIF


Element within a larger voting system.


Prevention of unauthorized disclosure of information.

configuration management

A continuous process of recording and maintaining consistent and reliable records pertaining to an organization’s hardware and software composition, including software version control and hardware updates.


Fulfilling specified requirements by a product, process, or service.

conformance testing

Process of testing a device or system of devices against the requirements specified in one or more standards. The outcomes of a conformance test are generally a pass or fail result, possibly including reports of problems encountered during the execution.

Synonyms: conformity assessment


A single decision or set of associated decisions being put before the voters (for example, the option of candidates to fill a particular public office or the approval or disapproval of a constitutional amendment). This term encompasses other terms such as “race,” “question,” and “issue” that are sometimes used to refer to specific kinds of contests. It does not refer to the legal challenge of an election outcome.

contest option

A votable choice that appears under a contest.

contest option position

A specified area on a ballot where a voter’s selection in a particular contest can be indicated.

Synonyms: ballot marking target area, ballot selection position, target, target area

contest option vote

Vote that will be tabulated for a particular contest option.

Synonyms: valid vote

contest selection

A selection made on the ballot by a voter with respect to a specific single contest (for example, a candidate, the value “Yes” or “Approve”).

core logic

Subset of application logic that is responsible for vote recording and tabulation.

corrective action

Action taken to eliminate the causes of an existing deficiency or other undesirable situation in order to prevent it from recurring.

counted ballot

A read ballot that has been processed and whose votes are included in the vote totals.

Synonyms: tabulated ballot, tallied ballot

cross-party endorsement

Endorsement of a single candidate or slate of candidates by more than one political party. The candidate or slate appears on the ballot representing each endorsing political party.

Synonyms: cross filing

cryptographic end-to-end (E2E) verifiable voting systems

A voting system that uses cryptographic techniques to store an encrypted copyvof the voter’s ballot selections while maintaining ballot secrecy and allows elections outcomes to be independently and universally verified by members of the public. These voting systems provide voters with a special receipt of their cast ballot - one that allows them to verify their vote was included in the outcome but does not reveal to anyone how they voted.

Synonyms: receipt-based systems

cryptographic hash

A cryptographic algorithm that computes a numerical hash value based on a data file or electronic message. It should be infeasible in practice to find two distinct data files or messages that will result in the same numerical hash value. The numerical value can be considered to be a fingerprint of the file or message. Colloquially known as a hash, hash function, or digital fingerprint. Hashes provide integrity protection.

cryptographic key

A numeric value used as input to cryptographic operations, such as decryption, encryption, signature generation, or verification of a digital signature.


Discipline that embodies the principles, means, and methods for transforming data to hide their semantic content, prevent their unauthorized use, prevent their undetected modification, or establish their authenticity.

cumulative voting

A vote variation used in multi-seat contests where a voter is permitted to distribute allowed selections to 1 or more candidates in whole vote increments.


Measures taken to protect computer systems and data from attack and unauthorized access or use.


Revocation of national or state certification of a voting system or any of its components.


Cryptographic process of transforming encrypted data back into its pre-encryption form.


Also called the “Castle” approach. Multiple levels of logical and physical security measures that deny a single point of security failure in a system. Examples include the combined use of passwords, encryption, lock-and-key access, security seals, and logs.


Physical apparatus and any supporting supplies, materials, and logic that together form a functional unit that performs assigned tasks as an integrated whole.

digital certificate

A data set used to identify the holder of the certification and to verify, using a PKI, the authenticity of the certificate. It typically includes the holder’s private key and is used for cryptographic operations such as digitally signing or encrypting data.

digital signature

A cryptographic operation where a private key is used to digitally sign an electronic document and the associated public key is used to verify the signature. Digital signatures provide data authentication and integrity protection.

direct recording electronic voting machine

A vote-capture device that allows:

Synonyms: DRE

direct voter associations

A voter’s personally identifiable information (PII) created or stored by the voting system that can be used to associate a voter with their ballot selections. Examples include first name, last name, address, driver’s license, voter registration number, and other PII

Synonyms: PII

early voting

Voting that occurs prior to election day under the supervision of election workers.

Synonyms: in-person absentee voting

early voting center

Physical location where individuals may cast a ballot before election day under the supervision of election workers.

Synonyms: early vote center

elected office

An office that is filled primarily or exclusively via election.


A formal process in which qualified voters select candidates to fill seats in one or more offices and/or vote on one or more proposed ballot measures.

Election Assistance Commission

Election Assistance Commission, created by the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) to assist the states regarding HAVA compliance and to distribute HAVA funds to the states. The EAC is also charged with creating voting system guidelines and operating the Federal Government’s first voting system certification program. The EAC is also responsible for maintaining the National Voter Registration form, conducting research, and administering a national clearinghouse on elections that includes shared practices, information for voters, and other resources to improve elections.

Synonyms: EAC

election certification

The act of confirming the final official results of a jurisdiction’s election. This event occurs after results from valid ballots are tallied from all sources (election day, absentee voting, early voting, provisional ballots, etc.) and results are validated and approved by those legally responsible.

election day

The last day on which voters may cast a ballot. Absentee ballots and early voting ballots may be cast in advance of election day.

election definition

Data used in defining an election, including election districts, contests, candidates, and ballot style information.

election definition medium

Programmed memory component containing all applicable election definition data required by an election system device.

election district

Administrative area in which voters are entitled to vote in contests that are specific to that area.

election jurisdiction

A geographical area to which an authorized authority has been granted to administer elections for political or administrative offices. Areas of jurisdiction apply to local, state, and federal levels. States, counties, cities, towns, and townships are all examples of jurisdictions.

election management system

Set of processing functions and databases within a voting system typically used to:

Synonyms: EMS

election official

Any person who is involved with administering or conducting an election, including government personnel and temporary election workers. This may include any county clerk and recorder, election judge, member of a canvassing board, central election official, election day worker, member of a board of county commissioners, member or secretary of a board of directors authorized to conduct public elections, representative of a governing body, or other person engaged in the performance of election duties as required by the election code.

election programming

Process by which election officials or their designees use voting system software to create the election definition and configure all election definition medium for use in a specific election.

election results report

A tabulation report produced after the closing of polls for the purpose of publicizing the vote counts.

Election Results Reporting System

A system that:

Synonyms: ENR, ERR, election night reporting

election system

  1. A technology-based system that is used to collect, process, and store data related to elections and election administration. In addition to voter registration systems and public election websites, election systems include voting systems, vote tabulation systems, electronic poll books, election results reporting systems, and auditing devices.
  2. Entire array of procedures, people, resources, equipment, and locations associated with conducting elections.

election worker

Any person who interacts with those coming to vote. This includes any poll worker, election day worker, early voting worker, or other temporary staff engaged in supporting the voting or vote counting process.

Synonyms: poll worker

electronic ballot delivery

The delivery of ballot and voter information packets electronically. The MOVE Act requires each state to provide for the electronic delivery (via fax, email, or an Internet-supported application) of ballots and related information from the local election office to the registered UOCAVA voter.

electronic ballot interface

Subsystem within a voting system which communicates ballot information to a voter in video, audio, or other alternative format which allows the voter to select contest options using vocalization or physical actions.

electronic ballot return

The return of a voted ballot or voter information packet using electronic means. This can be by fax, email, or through the use of an Internet supported application. Sometimes referred to as “Internet Voting.”

electronic device

Device that uses electronic or electromechanical components.

electronic poll book

Device that partially automates the process of checking in voters, assigning them the correct ballot style, and marking voters who have been issued a ballot. May be used in place of a traditional paper poll book. E-poll books can be stand alone at the precinct with a separate copy of the registration list or can be networked into a central voter registration system. They can check and update voter records in real time.

Synonyms: EPB, e-poll book

electronic voter interface

Component of an electronic vote-capture device that communicates ballot information to the voter and accepts contest selection input from the voter.

eligible voters

The universe of all voters who, if they cast a ballot, would have the legal right to have eligible contests on that ballot tabulated. This would include those who do not appear in the list of eligible voters because they live in a same-day registration or no registration state and did not or could not register ahead of time.


Cryptographic process of transforming data (called “plaintext”) into a form (called “ciphertext”) that conceals the data’s original meaning to prevent it from being known or used. Encryption provides confidentiality protection.


Approval by a political party, for example, as the candidate that the party fields in a particular contest or as the candidate that should receive straight party votes. In some states, more than one party may endorse a candidate or contest option.

enhanced visual format

A display format that is an alternative visual format supporting personal screen display choices such as text size, color contrast, and preferred language.

error correction code

Coding system that allows data being read or transmitted to be checked for errors and, when detected, corrects those errors.

error rate

Ratio of the number of errors that occur to the volume of data processed.

escalation of privilege

An attack on a system where the attacker is using some means to bypass security controls in order to attain a higher privilege level on the target system.

exhausted ballot

Refers to processing a ranked choice voting contest on a cast ballot, when that ballot becomes inactive and cannot be advanced in the tabulation for a contest because there are no further valid rankings on the ballot for continuing contest options.

expected mark

Mark that falls wholly or partially inside a contest option position.

eXtensible markup language

A text-based language used to organize and present information on the World Wide Web.

Synonyms: XML

extraneous mark

A mark on a paper ballot that appears to be unrelated to the act of indicating a voter’s selection. Examples include: a mark made unintentionally by a voter that is obviously not related to making a selection; a hesitation mark, a dot within or outside of the contest option position made by resting a pen or pencil on the ballot; written notes or identifying information not related to indication of the voter’s selection; or printing defects.

Synonyms: inadvertent mark, random mark, stray mark


Looking at voting system reliability, a failure is an event that results in:

failure rate

Ratio of the number of failures that occur to the volume of data processed.


Flaw in design or implementation that may result in the qualities or behavior of the voting system deviating from the qualities or behavior that are anticipated, including those specified in the VVSG or in manufacturer-provided documentation.


A system that continues to operate after the failure of a computer or network component.

Federal Information Processing Standards

Standards for federal computer systems developed by NIST. These standards are developed when there are no existing industry standards to address federal requirements for system interoperability, portability of data and software, and computer security.

Synonyms: FIPS


(n) Result of a formal evaluation by a test lab or accredited expert.

Synonyms: verdict


A gateway system designed to prevent unauthorized access to a private network or intranet that is connected to the internet. A firewall can be implemented in either hardware or software, or a combination of both.


A specific class of software encoded directly into a hardware device that controls its defined functions and provides the low-level control for the computer’s specific hardware (such as the firmware that initially boots an operating system).

functional configuration audit

Exhaustive verification of every system function and combination of functions cited in the manufacturer’s documentation. The FCA verifies the accuracy and completeness of the system’s Voter Manual, Operations Procedures, Maintenance Procedures, and Diagnostic Testing Procedures.

Synonyms: FCA

functional test

Test performed to verify or validate the accomplishment of one or more functions.

general election

Election in which all eligible voters, regardless of party affiliation, are permitted to select candidates to fill public office and/or vote on ballot measures.

geographical information system

A system designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present all types of spatial or geographical data. GIS systems are used to validate voting district boundaries and may be integrated with the voter registration system.

Synonyms: GIS

geopolitical unit

Describes units of geopolitical geography so that they can be associated with contests, offices, ballot styles, and election results.

Synonyms: GpUnit

graceful recovery

Termination of a process that allows the operating system or parent process to regain normal control. Does no crash the machine or result in a general protection fault (GPF) or blue screen. The user is not required to close the application and can continue to use the other functionality.


Counting ballot sheets and/or selections on ballot sheets by human examination.


The physical, tangible, mechanical, or electromechanical components of a system.

Help America Vote Act

Act passed by the U.S. Congress in 2002 to make sweeping reforms to the nation’s voting process. HAVA addresses improvements to voting systems and voter access that were identified following the 2000 election.

Synonyms: HAVA

implementation statement

Statement by a manufacturer indicating the capabilities, features, and optional functions as well as extensions that have been implemented.

Synonyms: implementation conformance statement

in-person voting

Voting that occurs in an official location under the supervision of election workers.


Without assistance from an election worker or other person.

indirect selection

The mechanism by which a selection for a specific contest option automatically selects other linked contest options. An example is a straight party selection that causes indirect selections for all contest options of the identified party.

military voter

A unique identifier used to associate a voter with their ballot selections. Indirect associations do not include PII.

information security

Protecting information and information systems from unauthorized access, use, disclosure, disruption, modification, or destruction in order to provide integrity, confidentiality, and availability.

Synonyms: IS


Examination of a product design, product, process, or installation and determination of its conformity with specific requirements.

interaction mode

Control or navigation option that enables voters to operate and interact with the voting system, used in conjunction with a display format.


The extent to which systems from different manufacturers and devices with different system configurations can communicate with each other.

intrusion detection system

A hardware or software application that detects and reports a suspected security breach, policy violation, or other compromise that may adversely affect the network.

Synonyms: IDS

key management

Activities involving handling of cryptographic keys and other related security parameters (such as passwords) during the entire life cycle of the keys, including their generation, storage, establishment, entry and output, zeroization, and revocation.

life cycle

Systems engineering concept that identifies the phases that a system passes through, from concept to retirement. There are different concerns and activities associated with each phase of the life cycle.

limited dexterity mode

An interaction mode with accessibility features for voters with no use of one or both hands or low dexterity. This mode includes the tactile mode and the non-manual mode.


Generic term used in election contexts to signify a town, village or city contained within an election jurisdiction, such as a county.

logic and accuracy testing

Equipment and system readiness tests whose purpose is to detect malfunctioning devices and improper election-specific setup before the equipment or systems are used in an election. Election officials conduct L&A tests prior to the start of an election as part of the process of setting up the system and the devices for an election according to jurisdiction practices and conforming to any state laws.

Synonyms: L&A, LAT

logic defect

Fault in software, firmware, or hardwired logic.

logical correctness

Condition signifying that, for a given input, a computer program will satisfy the program specification and produce the required output.

low/no dexterity mode

An interaction mode with accessibility features for voters with no use of one or both hands or low dexterity.

machine-readable mark

Mark in a contest selection position of a paper ballot that meets requirements for detection by a scanner.

machine-unreadable mark

Mark in a contest selection position of a paper ballot that cannot be detected as readable or marginal by a scanner, and may require human adjudication.

majority voting

A vote variation which requires the winning candidate to receive more than half of the votes cast. If no candidate wins an outright majority, a runoff election may be held between the top two vote-getters.


Software or firmware intended to perform an unauthorized process that will have adverse impact on the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of a system. For example, a virus, worm, Trojan horse, or other code-based entity that infects a host. Spyware and some forms of adware are also examples of malware.

Synonyms: malicious code

manually-marked paper ballot

Paper ballot marked by a voter using a writing utensil.

Synonyms: MMPB


Entity with ownership and control over a voting system submitted for testing.

marginally machine-readable mark

An intentional mark in a contest selection position of a paper ballot that does not meet the requirements for a reliably detectable selection, and therefore requires human adjudication. A marginal mark may be determined to indicate a selection, depending on state law.

Synonyms: marginal mark

marked ballot

Ballot that contains all of a voter’s selections.

message authentication

A data authenticator generated from the message, usually though cryptographic techniques, that is designed to reveal both accidental errors and intentional modifications of the data. In general, a cryptographic key is also required as an input.

military voter

A member of a uniformed service in active service, including army, navy, air force, marine corps, coast guard and merchant marine, and their spouses and dependents.

misfeed rate

Ratio of the misfeed total to the total ballot volume.


A structural unit of a software program that serves a specific function for the program or that serves to make the program modular in structure for the purposes of easier understanding and maintenance.

multi-factor authentication

Authentication mechanism requiring two or more of the following:

multi-seat contest

Contest in which multiple candidates are elected to fill a specified number of seats.


Term as used in election contexts to signify a jurisdiction such as city, town, or village that has some form of local government for which elections are generally conducted.

N-of-M voting

Vote variation in which the voter is entitled to allocate a fixed number of votes (N) over a list of M contest options or write-in options, with the constraint that at most 1 vote may be allocated to a given contest option. This usually occurs when multiple seats are concurrently being filled in a governing body such as a city council or school board where candidates contend for at-large seats. The voter is not obliged to allocate all N votes. 1-of-M is N-of-M voting where N = 1.

national certification test report

Report of the results of independent testing of a voting system by a Voting System Test Lab (VSTL) delivered to the EAC with a recommendation about granting a certification number.

National Institute of Standards and Technology

Federal organization tasked with assisting in the development of voting system standards. NIST develops and maintains standards for a wide array of technologies. NIST scientists assist the EAC in developing testable standards for voting systems.

Synonyms: NIST


An interaction mode that uses assistive technology, for example, a sip-and-puff switch, to allow voters with no use of their hands to operate the voting system.

non-party-specific contest

Contest where eligibility to vote in that contest is independent of political party affiliation.

non-user-serviceable failure

Functional failure that requires the manufacturer or highly trained personnel to repair.

nonpartisan office

Elected office for which candidates appear on the ballot without political party designation.

nonpartisan primary

Primary election held to narrow the field of candidates in non-party-specific contests.

nonvolatile memory

Memory in which information can be stored indefinitely with no external power applied.

notice of clarification

Document providing further guidance and explanation on the requirements and procedures of the EAC’s Voting System Certification or Voting System Testing Lab (VSTL) programs. NOCs may be issued in response to a clarification request from a Voting System Test Lab or an EAC registered manufacturer. EAC may also issue NOCs when it determines general clarifications are necessary.

observational test

Operational test conducted on voting devices during an election by real voters to establish confidence that the voter verifiable paper record is produced correctly when assistive technology is used. Devices subjected to observational testing are used for normal collection of votes; the votes collected are included in the election tally.


A position established by law with certain associated rights and duties.

open primary

Partisan primary election in which the voter may choose a political party at the time of voting and vote in party-specific contests associated with that party, along with non-party-specific contests presented at the same election. Some states require voters to publicly declare their choice of party at the polling place, after which the election worker provides or activates the appropriate ballot. Other states allow the voters to make their choice of party within the privacy of the voting booth.

Synonyms: pick-your-party primary

open source

Computer software with its source code (human readable code) made available with a license in which the copyright holder provides the rights to study, change, and distribute the software to anyone and for any purpose. Open source software may:

optical scan

Voting system that tabulates votes marked in contest option positions or contained with a barcode on the surface of a paper ballot.

overseas voter

A U.S. citizen who is living outside of the United States and is eligible to vote in their last place of residence in the United States.


Occurs when the number of selections made by a voter in a contest is more than the maximum number allowed.

Synonyms: over-vote

paper ballot

A piece of paper, or multiple sheets of paper, on which all contest options of a given ballot style are printed.

paper ballot sheet

A single piece of paper that forms part of a paper ballot. Paper ballots may contain multiple sheets.

paper ballot side

The face of a paper ballot sheet. A paper ballot may have two sides.

paper-based voting system

A voting system that records votes, counts votes, and/or produces a report of the vote count from votes cast on paper cards or sheets.

partisan office

Elected office for which candidates may appear on the ballot with a political party designation.

partisan primary

Primary election held to narrow the field of candidates in party-specific contests.

party-specific contest

Contest where eligibility to vote in that contest is restricted based on political party affiliation or lack of any affiliation. The affiliation might be the registered affiliation of the voter or it might be an affiliation declared at the time of voting.

pattern voting

Selecting contest options across multiple contests in a predetermined pattern intending to signal one’s identity to someone else. The possibility of pattern voting can be an issue for publishing Cast Vote Records (CVR) because it may compromise voter privacy if there are enough selections in each published CVR to make it likely a selection pattern might be unique.

penetration testing

An evaluation method that enables researchers to search for vulnerabilities in a system.

Synonyms: Pen Testing

personal assistive device

Assistive technology belonging to voters rather than any supplied with the voting system.

personal identifiable information

Any information about an individual including:

Synonyms: PII, voter identifying information, VII

physical configuration audit

Inspection by a voting system test lab (VSTL) that compares the voting system components submitted for certification testing to the manufacturer’s technical documentation and confirms that the documentation submitted meets the national certification requirements. Includes witnessing the executable system being built to ensure that the certified release is built from the tested components.

Synonyms: PCA

plurality voting

A vote variation in which the candidate with the most votes wins, without necessarily receiving a majority of votes.

political party

An association of individuals under whose name a candidate may appear on a ballot.

political subdivision

Any unit of government, such as counties, cities, school districts, and water and conservation districts having authority to hold elections for public offices or on ballot measures.

polling location

Physical address of a polling place.

polling place

Location at which voters may cast in-person ballots under the supervision of election workers during one or more specific time periods.

Synonyms: poll, polling station

post-election tabulation audit

A post-election audit that involves hand-counting a sample of votes on paper records, then comparing those counts to the corresponding vote totals originally reported:


Election administration division corresponding to a geographic area that is the basis for determining which contests the voters legally residing in that area are eligible to vote on.

Synonyms: tabulation district, ward

precinct count

Counting ballots in the same precinct in which those ballots have been cast.

precinct split

A subdivision of a precinct which arises when a precinct is split by two or more election districts that may require different ballot styles.

Synonyms: split, split precinct, sub-precinct

presentable ballot style

Ballot style that includes all presentational details required to generate a ballot. This may include language, ordering of contests and candidates, and structural content such as headers.

presidential primary election

Primary election in which voters choose the delegates to the presidential nominating conventions allotted to their states by the national party committees.

primary election

Election held to determine which candidates qualify to appear as contest options in subsequent elections.

privacy (for voters)

A property of a voting system that is designed and deployed to enable voters to obtain a ballot, and mark, verify, and cast it without revealing their ballot selections or selections of language, display and interaction modes to anyone else. This does not preclude the ability of a voter to request assistance under state law.

private key

The secret part of an asymmetric key pair that is typically used to digitally sign or decrypt data.

product standard

Standard that specifies requirements to be fulfilled by a product or a group of products, to confirm it can perform its intended task.

programmed device

Electronic device that includes software. Most electronic voting devices include application logic (software) and are, therefore, programmed devices.

proportional voting

A vote variation used in multi-seat contests where the votes allowed in the contest are distributed to the selected candidates proportionally depending on the number of selections. This may result in candidates receiving fractional votes.

provisional ballot

A failsafe ballot provided to a voter whose eligibility for a regular ballot cannot be immediately determined. The ballot may be counted or further processed depending on state law.

Synonyms: affidavit ballot

public key

Public part of an asymmetric key pair that is typically used to verify digital signatures or encrypt data.

public key infrastructure

A set of roles, policies, and procedures used to establish greater trust in the authenticity of a digital certificate and for use in creating, managing, distributing, using, storing, and revoking digital certificates.

Synonyms: PKI

public test

An abbreviated logic and accuracy test of voting equipment, pre-announced in public media and open to public attendance, usually in conformance with specific election calendar timing.

QR Code®

A 2-D, trademarked barcode. An optical, 2-D machine-readable representation of data that conforms to accepted standards.

Synonyms: Quick Response code

range voting

A vote variation for single-seat contests, in which voters give each candidate a score, the scores are added (or averaged), and the candidate with the highest total is elected.

ranked choice voting

A vote variation:

Synonyms: IRV, RCV, instant run-off voting, ranked order

read ballot

Cast ballot that has been successfully accepted and initially processed.

Synonyms: scanned ballot

recall issue with options

Vote variation that allows voters to remove elected representatives from office before their terms of office expire. The recall may involve not only the question of whether a particular officer should be removed, but also the question of naming a successor in the event that there is an affirmative vote for the recall.

recallable ballot

Recorded ballot that can be individually retrieved and included or excluded from further processing.


Re-examination, and possibly retesting, of a voting system that was modified after being previously certified. The object of recertification is to determine if the system as modified still conforms to the requirements.


(n) Preserved evidence of activities performed or results achieved (for example, forms, reports, test results). (v) To create a record.

recorded ballot

A ballot for which there is an associated cast vote record.


Repeat tabulation of votes cast in an election, whether manually or electronically, that is used to determine the accuracy of an initial count.


Self-contained, time-stamped, archival record, such as a printout or analogous electronic file that is produced at a specific time and subsequently protected from modification.

report total error rate

Ratio of the report total error to the report total volume.

reporting unit

Geographical area in which reported totals or counts are reported (for example, an election jurisdiction, precinct, or election district).


Ability to obtain the same test results by using the same test method on identical test items in different testing laboratories with different operators using different equipment.

residual vote

Vote that could not be allocated to a specific contest option due to an undervote or overvote.


The ability to recover gracefully from error conditions and unexpected circumstances. For example, manually marked paper preserves evidence of exceptions that can advise both adjudication and audit to achieve better interpretation of original voter intent.

reviewed ballot

Ballot that has been reviewed (either electronically or by the voter) before it is cast, to determine what contest selections and if applicable unselected contest options it contains.

risk assessment

The process of identifying the risks to system security and determining the probability of occurrence, the resulting impact, and safeguards that would mitigate this impact.

risk-limiting tabulation audit

Post-election tabulation audit procedure for checking a sample of ballots (or voter verifiable records) that is guaranteed to have a large, pre-specified chance of correcting the reported outcome if the reported outcome is wrong (that is, if a full hand-count would reveal an outcome different from the reported outcome).

Synonyms: RLA

runoff election

Election to select a winner following a primary election or a general election, in which no candidate in the contest received the required minimum percentage of the votes cast. The two candidates receiving the most votes for the contest in question proceed to a runoff election.

score voting

A vote variation for single-seat contests, in which voters give each candidate a score, the scores are added (or averaged), and the candidate with the highest total is elected.

Synonyms: range voting


An elected office position that a single officeholder may occupy for a term of office.

second chance voting

Feature of a voter-facing scanner that reviews the ballot for possible marking mistakes, informs the voter, and presents an opportunity to cast as-is or return the ballot.

security analysis

An inquiry into the potential existence of security flaws in a voting system. Includes an analysis of the system’s software, firmware, and hardware, as well as the procedures associated with system development, deployment, operation, and management.

security controls

Management, operational, and technical controls (that is, safeguards or countermeasures) prescribed for an information system to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the system and its information.

security strength

A metric associated with the amount of work (that is, the number of operations) that is required to break a cryptographic algorithm or system.

software independence

Quality of a voting system or voting device where a previously undetected change or fault in software cannot cause an undetectable change or error in election outcome. In practice, voting systems are generally viewed as possessing the quality of software independence when they allow for a voter-verifiable paper record of voters’ contest selections to be created and compared against vote totals or against an electronic cast vote record used in determining vote totals.

Synonyms: SI

source code

Human readable computer instructions that, when compiled or interpreted, define the functionality of a programmed device. Source code can be written by humans or by computers.

spear phishing

A targeted attack by hackers, using bogus emails, that attempts to get the victim to provide login information or personal information to the hackers. Spear Phishing attempts may appear to originate from legitimate, known sources, such as organizational IT or known vendors.

special election

Primary election or general election that is not regularly scheduled. A special election may be combined with a scheduled election.


(A ballot) To mark or otherwise alter a ballot so it indicates in a human-readable manner that the ballot is not to be cast.

spoiled ballot

A ballot that has been issued to a voter but will not be cast, usually because it has been incorrectly marked or impaired in some way.


A document that provides requirements, specifications, guidelines, or characteristics that can be used consistently to ensure that materials, products, processes, and services are fit for their purpose.

straight party override

Explicit voter selection that overrides or supplements the vote selections made by a straight party voting option. Straight party overrides may be subject to state election rules for how they work or whether they are allowed.

straight party voting

Mechanism that allows voters to cast a single vote to select all candidates on the ballot from a single political party.

street segment data

The portion of a street between two consecutive cross streets that can be assigned to a precinct.

support software

Software that aids in developing, maintaining, or using other software, for example, compilers, loaders and other utilities.

symmetric cryptography

Encryption system that uses the same key for encryption and decryption. This key must be kept secret.

Synonyms: secret key cryptography

system extent

Administrative unit that is the entire scope within which the voting system is used (for example, a county). The system extent corresponds to the top-level reporting context for which the system generates reports.


Inductive coil used in some hearing aids to allow reception of an audio band magnetic field signal instead of an acoustic signal. The magnetic or inductive mode of reception is commonly used in conjunction with telephones, auditorium loop systems, and other systems that provide the required magnetic field output.


Process of totaling votes.

Synonyms: count

tabulation report

A report containing the counts associated with ballots that have been tabulated.

tactile controls

A tactile control is a physically control discernable or perceptible by touch using hands, feet, or other parts of the body. (Does not include touch screens.) Dual switches are a form of tactile controls that can be used by voters with minimal use of their hands.

technical data package

Manufacturer documentation relating to the voting system, which can include manuals, description of components, and details of architectural and engineering design.

Synonyms: TDP


Procedure used to determine one or more characteristics of a given product, process, or service according to a specified procedure for conformity assessment. A test may be an operational test or a non-operating test (for example, an inspection).

test deck

A set of marked ballots with a predetermined outcome. Used for logic and accuracy testing of a voting system.

test method

Specified technical procedure for performing a test, procedures by which tests are derived, or a combination of these.

test plan

Document created prior to testing that outlines the scope and nature of testing, items to be tested, test approach, resources needed to perform testing, test tasks, risks, and schedule.

test suite

Implementation of a set of operational tests for a particular object (such as a specific voting system) or class of objects (such as all voting systems that can interpret the language in which the test data are expressed).

third-party logic

Software, firmware, or hardwired logic that is neither application logic nor COTS. This includes, for example, general-purpose software developed by a third party that is either customized (for example, ported to a new platform, as is Windows Embedded Compact), not widely used, or source-code generated by a COTS package.


Something a user possesses and controls, typically a key or password, that is used to authenticate an identity.

Synonyms: authentication token, cryptographic token

touch screen voting machine

A vote-capture device that utilizes a computer screen to display the ballot and allows the voter to indicate their selections by touching designated locations on the screen.


An urban area that has a name, defined boundaries, and local government, and that is generally larger than a village and smaller than a city. Term used in New England, New York, and Wisconsin to refer to the equivalent of the civil township in these states.


A widely used unit of local government in the United States, subordinate to a county, with some form of local government for which it generally conducts elections.

Synonyms: civil township


Occurs when the number of voter selections in a contest is less than the maximum number allowed for that contest or when no selection is made. The number of undervotes is equal to the number of votes lost, for example, if no selection is made in a vote for two contest, the number of votes lost is two.

Synonyms: under-vote

Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act

Act of Congress in 1986 requiring that the states and territories allow certain groups of citizens to register and vote absentee in elections for Federal offices.

Synonyms: UOCAVA

UOCAVA voter

An overseas voter or an active duty member of the U.S. military, either within or outside the United States, including any accompanying spouse and family members who are eligible to vote in their last place of residence in the United States. The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act is commonly referred to as UOCAVA.


Effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction with which a specified set of users can achieve a specified set of tasks in a particular environment. Usability in the context of voting refers to voters being able to cast valid votes as they intended quickly, without errors, and with confidence that their contest selections were recorded correctly. It also refers to the usability of the setup and operation of voting equipment in the polling place.

usability testing

Testing that encompasses a range of methods that examine how users in the target audience actually interact with a system, in contrast to analytic techniques such as usability inspection.

user-serviceable failure

Functional failure that can be remedied by a troubleshooter or election official using only knowledge found in voting equipment user documentation.

valid vote

See contest option vote.


Process of evaluating a system or component during or at the end of the development process to determine whether it satisfies specified requirements.

visual format

A display format in which information is displayed on screen or paper for perception using sight.


Indication of support for a particular contest option.

vote center

A physical location where voters from multiple precincts may cast their ballots.

vote variation

Voting style or feature, including but not limited to the following: approval voting, Borda count, cumulative voting, N-of-M voting, plurality voting, proportional voting, range voting, and ranked choice voting, score voting.


Method of voting by which eligible voters are mailed ballots and information packets by the local election jurisdiction. Voters may be able to return their marked ballots by mail, bring them to an election office, or drop them off in secure drop boxes.

Synonyms: VBM, all-mail voting, mail voting, postal voting

vote-capture device

Component of a voting system that captures and/or counts voter selections from paper or electronic ballots. Vote-capture devices may or may not be directly voter-facing; voter-facing vote-capture devices include ballot marking devices and voter-facing scanners, while non-voter-facing vote-capture devices include batch-fed scanners.


Person permitted to cast a ballot.

voter intent

A cognitive construct, formed by the voter, that they attempt to express through actions taken to mark, verify, and cast the issued ballot.

voter intent standard

A standard for counting ballots that aims to ensure that ballots are counted in accordance with the goals of the voter, using written rules for both human processes and machine algorithms to ensure that all ballots marked in a similar way are counted in the same way.

voter verifiable

A voting system feature that provides the voter an opportunity to verify that their contest selections are being recorded correctly before the ballot is cast.

voter verifiable paper audit trail

A paper document that the voter can review before officially casting their ballot.

Synonyms: VVPAT

voter-facing scanner

An electronic voting device that:

This unit was previously referred to as precinct count optical scanner or PCOS.

Synonyms: PCOS, precinct-count optical scanner

voting device

Device that is part of the voting system.

voting process

Entire array of procedures, people, resources, equipment, and locations associated with conducting elections.

voting session

A collection of activities including ballot issuance, voter interaction with the vote-capture device, voting, verification, and casting.

voting station

The location within a polling place where voters may record their votes. A voting station includes the area, location, booth, or enclosure where voting takes place.

voting system

Equipment (including hardware, firmware, and software), materials, and documentation used to:

  1. define elections and ballot styles,
  2. configure voting equipment,
  3. identify and validate voting equipment configurations,
  4. perform logic and accuracy tests,
  5. activate ballotsfor voters,
  6. record votes cast by voters,
  7. count votes,
  8. label ballots needing special treatment,
  9. generate reports,
  10. export election data includng election results,
  11. archive election data, and
  12. and produce records in support of audits.

voting system software

The executable code and associated configuration files needed for the proper operation of the voting system.

voting system test lab

Privately owned testing laboratories that test voting systems (and other election systems) for conformance to the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG) or to other requirements, including individual state requirements. VSTLs are periodically reviewed for conformance to National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP) administered by the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST).

Synonyms: VSTL

white box testing

Testing based on an analysis of the internal structure of the component or system.


A wireless networking technology that uses radio waves to provide high-speed Internet network connections.

Wide area network

A network that connects computers across metropolitan, regional, and national boundaries. The internet is an example of a WAN.

Synonyms: WAN


Connectivity using electro-magnetic waves instead of wire connections.

write-in option

A type of contest option that allows a voter to specify a candidate, usually not already listed as a contest option. Depending on election jurisdiction rules, in some cases only previously approved names will be considered as valid write-in contest selections.

zero report

A tabulation report produced at the opening of polls to check that there are no stored votes.