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Election Terminology.

Absentee BallotBallot cast by a voter who won't physically be present at a polling place on Election Day. Absentee voting rules vary by jurisdiction. Some jurisdictions use the term synonymous with mailed ballots, while other jurisdictions use the term synonymous with early voting.
Acceptance TestingExamination of a voting system and its components by the purchasing election authority (usually in a simulated-use environment) to validate the performance of the equipment to ensure they meet procurement requirements and validate that the delivered system is the certified system purchased.
AccessibilityMeasurable characteristics that indicate the degree to which a system is available to and usable by voters with disabilities.
AccumulationAct of gathering election results from multiple tabulators or USB flash drives at a polling location onto a single device.
ADA FunctionalityEquipment functionality that allows voters with disabilities to use the voting equipment. Through audio ballot, raised shapes and Braille, accessible equipment enables the voter to make choices and cast ballots privately and independently.
AdjudicationProcess of resolving cast ballots to reflect voter intent. Common reasons that ballots require adjudication include write-ins, overvotes, marginal mark, having no contest selections marked on the entire ballot, or the ballot being unreadable by a scanner. (Credit: EAC)
Air GapPhysical separation between systems that requires data to be moved by some external, manual procedure.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)A civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life and all public and private places that are open to the general public. In elections, the ADA ensures individuals with disabilities are given equal access to polling places and the opportunity to vote privately and independently.
Assistive TechnologyTechnology that improves or maintains the capabilities of people with disabilities. These devices may include items such as headphones, audio ballots, keypads and sip-and-puff devices.
Attack SurfaceSum of the different points where an unauthorized user can attempt to enter data to or extract data from an environment.
Audio Ballot A ballot presented to the voter in spoken form.
AuditA systematic and documented review conducted after polls close and according to state and local laws for the purpose of determining whether the votes were counted accurately (a results audit) or whether proper procedures were followed (a process audit), or both. See Fixed-Percentage Audit, Procedural Audit and Risk-Limiting Audit.
Audit Log (audit trail)Records the date, time and description of every user- or system-initiated event that occurs on a voting machine. An automated means to trace back to the original source of data, any input record or process performed by a system as a means to reconstruct steps followed or to later verify actions taken with respect to election procedures and voting systems.
AuthenticationProcess of verifying that information is coming from a trusted source — authentication and encryption work hand in hand for digital signatures. Can also refer to verifying the authenticity of voter or ballot.
BallotOfficial presentation of all contests to be decided in a particular election. This is the mechanism for voters to show their voter preferences.
Ballot Marking Device (BMD)Voting device that displays contest options and allows voters to mark their choices via an electronic interface such as a touch screen, includes optional accessibility features (e.g., a tactile keyboard, headphone jack sip-and-puff), and produces a human-readable paper ballot. A BMD does not record the voter’s choices into its memory. The ES&S ExpressVote and ExpressVote XL are ballot marking devices.
Ballot on Demand® (BOD)Process that produces a paper ballot of the required ballot style with the contests and candidates specific to a voter. This process requires a system with a printer that can create paper ballots that can be tabulated on a voting system and device with all of the data needed to print a ballot style associated with a specific voter. Note: "ballot on demand" is a registered trademark of ES&S, but it is a term that is commonly used for similar systems.
Ballot StyleA ballot with a specific set of contests and candidates for a particular precinct. Ballot styles vary based on which combination of contests and which party affiliation (in primary elections), that voters are eligible to participate in. Ballot style varies based on the contests voters are eligible to vote on and, during primary elections, their party affiliation.
CalibrationProcess of synchronizing a touch-screen display so the pressed location coincides precisely with the area read.
Cast Vote Record (CVR)Permanent record of all votes produced by a single voter, whether in electronic, paper or other forms. Also referred to as ballot image when used to refer to electronic ballots.
Central Count A location where absentee ballots and/or ballots from multiple poll places are tabulated.
CertificationProcess by which election equipment and software are measured against documented specifications. Election equipment must be designed, coded and documented according to certification standards. There are two types of certification for voting systems in the United States; federal certification and state certification.
Chain of CustodyA process used to track the movement and control of an asset through its lifecycle by documenting each person and organization who handles an asset, the date/time it was collected or transferred, and the purpose of the transfer.
Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS)Mass-produced software or hardware products that are not customized for a specific purpose, industry or user.
Critical InfrastructurePhysical and cyber systems and assets that are so vital to the United States that their incapacity or destruction would have a debilitating impact on our physical or economic security or public health or safety.
Curbside Voting Prefer the EAC definition with my added caveat: When a voter cannot enter a polling place (often due to physical limitations), in some jurisdictions, election officers are authorized to assist a voter with voting and casting a ballot outside of the polling place.
Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA)Leads the national effort to defend critical infrastructure against security threats while working with partners across all levels of government and in the private sector to secure against the evolving risks of tomorrow. CISA works to ensure the physical security and cybersecurity of the systems and assets that support the nation's election infrastructure.
Department of Homeland Security (DHS)U.S. federal executive department responsible for public security, roughly comparable to the interior or home ministries of other countries. A secure and resilient electoral process is a vital national interest and one of the highest priorities at the Department of Homeland Security.
Digital SignatureProvides data authentication and integrity protection. This verification allows you to know who created the file and that it has not been altered in any way since it was created. Digital signatures rely on certain types of encryption to ensure authentication.
Early VotingVoting that occurs prior to Election Day under the supervision of election workers. May include in-person voting at an elections office or other designated polling sites prior to Election Day or with a mailed or absentee ballot prior to Election Day.
Election Assistance Commission (EAC)Established by the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA). The U.S. EAC is an independent, bipartisan commission charged with developing guidance to meet HAVA requirements and developing voluntary voting system guidelines for use in certification testing and accrediting testing laboratories. The EAC also serves as an information hub for topics related to election administration and audits the use of HAVA funds by the States.
Election JurisdictionGeographical area where a government authority administers elections.
Election Management SoftwareSoftware within the election management system used to prepare the election information, including the ballot layout.
Election Management System (EMS)System used to design, develop and maintain election databases, perform election definition and setup functions, format ballots, count votes, consolidate and report results, and maintain audit trails.
Elections Infrastructure Sector Coordinating Council (EI-SCC)A group with the goal of advancing the physical security, cyber security and emergency preparedness of the nation’s election infrastructure in accordance with existing U.S. law.
Elections Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center (EI-ISAC)Brings together state and local election officials in a collaborative effort to prevent, protect, respond and recover from cyber security incidents.
Electronic Pollbook/E-poll bookDevice 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.
EncryptionProcess of transforming or scrambling data into a form that conceals the data's original meaning to prevent it from being known or used. Encryption provides confidentiality protection.
Encryption KeyEnsures only the information specific to the election being run may be loaded on the voting machine. A derived encryption key unique to the election helps limit the attack surface for a potential bad actor.
Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS)Standards and guidelines for federal computer systems developed by National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) that define acceptable security for transmitting sensitive data.
Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP)Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) works to ensure service members, their eligible family members and overseas citizens are aware of their right to vote and have the tools and resources to successfully do so no matter where they are in the world. The Director of FVAP administers UOCAVA on behalf of the Secretary of Defense.
FirewallSecurity device or program that filters inbound and outbound network connections to prevent unauthorized access to devices such as desktops and laptops or corporate networks. A firewall can be implemented in either hardware or software or a combination of both.
FirmwareSpecific 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). Firmware was originally designed for high-level software and could be changed without exchanging the hardware for a newer device.
Fixed-Percentage AuditPractice of recounting by hand a certain percentage of ballots or all the ballots in a certain percentage of precincts.
Government Coordinating Council (GCC)Formed as the government counterpart for each Sector Coordinating Council (SCC) to enable interagency and cross-jurisdictional coordination. The GCCs are comprised of representatives from across various levels of government (federal, state, local, or tribal), as appropriate to the operating landscape of each individual sector.
HardeningConfiguring a system to include only the services, applications, utilities and settings required to operate the system successfully.
Hash ValidationProcess of verifying the integrity of data. In elections, this independent check and validation verifies that the firmware on the voting system or machine matches the version of the firmware that was federally and state tested and approved.
Help America Vote Act (HAVA)Congressional legislation passed in 2002 that addresses improvements to voting systems and voter access.
High-speed or High-throughput Scanner and Tabulator (central scanner, central tabulator)Tabulator used to scan ballots and accumulate voter selections. Some jurisdictions that use central scanners transport ballots to a central count location where the ballots are scanned and tabulated. Some jurisdictions use central scanners to count absentee ballots and ballots from various polling places to scan ballots cast on Election Day. Examples include: DS450, DS850, DS950
JurisdictionGeographic area that has control over voting in that area (e.g., federal, state, county, city, township, school district, etc.)
Logic and Accuracy Test (L&A Testing)Public test performed prior to Election Day to demonstrate that the election system correctly counts and reports election results.
Mail-in Ballot/Mail BallotBroad reference to ballots sent through the mail, including in all-mail voting states and some forms of absentee voting. (a.k.a mail ballot, mail-in ballot, etc.)
National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS)Founded in 1904, NASS is the nation’s oldest nonpartisan professional organization for public officials. NASS serves as a medium for information exchange between States and fosters cooperation in the development of public policy. They have key initiatives focusing on the area of elections and voting.
National Association of State Election Directors (NASED) Formed in 1989, NASED's mission is to promote accessible, accurate and transparent elections in the United States and its territories, serving as an exchange of best practices and ideas for Election Directors. Before the formation of the EAC, this association handled certification of voting systems.
National Cybersecurity Assessment and Technical Services (NCATS)Provides an objective third-party perspective on the current cybersecurity posture of the stakeholder’s unclassified operational/business networks.
National Risk Management Center (NRMC)Housed within DHS’s CISA NRMC is a planning, analysis and collaboration center that identifies and addresses the most significant risks to our nation’s critical infrastructure.
OvervoteWhen the number of selections made by a voter in a contest is more than the maximum number allowed. i.e., a vote-for-one contest with two selections made.
Paper BallotPaper on which all voter selections are either hand-marked or printed, depending on the particular voting system.
PollbookAn official register of electors entitled to vote at an election, used to verify and check in voters prior to issuing them a ballot. May be paper or electronic. See Electronic Pollbook.
Polling PlaceA place where voters are assigned to cast in-person ballots.
PrecinctElection administration division corresponding to a contiguous geographic area that is the basis for determining which contests and issues the voters legally residing in that area are eligible to vote on.
Procedural AuditPost-election ballot accounting and reconciliation process. Can include a review of chain of custody for equipment and paper, ballot accounting and reconciliation and confirmation of adherence to procedures.
Provisional BallotBallot cast by a voter who was not on the list of eligible voters, whose information was incomplete or not accurate, or who had already received a ballot in the mail and was allowed to vote. Fail-safe ballots are usually kept separate from the other ballots until an election official can determine if the voter is eligible to vote. These ballots are sometimes called fail-safe ballots
Purpose-BuiltDesigned and constructed to serve a particular purpose. For example, ES&S tabulation systems are purpose-built, which means we know and vet the manufacturer of 100 percent of the individual components.
Ranked Choice VotingElectoral system that gives voters the power to rank candidates from favorite to least favorite.
RecountAdditional count of the votes cast in an election, typically required due to state law, a candidate request or a court order used to determine the accuracy of the reported results of an election. This process may be conducted using ballot tabulation equipment or by hand, depending on local laws and procedures.
Risk-Limiting AuditReview of ballots randomly selected from all ballots cast and compared to their tabulation records.
Security ControlsPhysical and technical safeguards and controls to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the voting system and its information.
Split PrecinctPrecinct that uses more than one ballot format because of a political subdivision within the precinct. An example is a precinct with more than one school district within the boundaries.
State, Local, Tribal and Territorial (SLTT)Serves as the organizational structure to voluntarily coordinate across jurisdictions and disciplines to provide senior-level strategic communications and coordination on state, local, tribal and territorial (SLTT) agency security and resilience initiatives, activities and best practices.
Straight Party (Straight Party Vote, Straight Party Contest) Option that appears on the ballot in the form of a regular contest with political parties in the selection area instead of candidates. When a voter selects one of the political parties in the straight party selection area, they are essentially voting for the candidate that belongs to the selected party in every contest on the ballot.
Supply Chain IntegritySet of policies, procedures, and technologies used to provide visibility and traceability of products within the supply chain.
TabulatorDevice that records and counts votes.
Test DeckSet of pre-marked ballots with a predetermined outcome used to check ballot scanners and tabulation software for accuracy. Test decks include ballots for every precinct, split and rotation in a jurisdiction. Test deck ballots are scanned and counted during logic and accuracy testing before an election in the same manner as real ballots to test a voting system for accuracy.
Unclear MarkMark on a paper ballot that appears to be unrelated to the act of indicating a vote selection. Examples include a mark unintentionally made by a voter that is not related to their selection; an unclear mark, a hesitation mark, a mark within or outside the oval typically made by resting a pen or pencil on the ballot; smudges or stains. This is sometimes referred to as a Marginal Mark.
UndervoteOccurs when the number of voter selections made by a voter is less than the maximum number allowed for that contest or when no selection is made.
Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA)Congress enacted UOCAVA in 1986. It requires all States and territories to allow certain groups of citizens to register and vote absentee in federal elections. Citizens covered by UOCAVA include U.S. Uniformed Services and Merchant Marines stationed overseas, their family members and U.S. citizens residing outside of the United States.
Universal Voting SystemVoting system designed to be usable by all people — considers the full range of human diversity, including physical, perceptual and cognitive abilities, as well as different body sizes and shapes.
Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG)Set of specifications and requirements against which voting systems can be tested to determine if the systems meet required standards. Under HAVA, the EAC is responsible for developing, maintaining, and approving these standards. Some factors examined under these tests include basic functionality, accessibility and security capabilities.
Vote by MailMethod of casting ballots by which eligible voters are mailed ballots and information packets by the local jurisdiction. Voters can return their marked ballots by mail, to a voting location, or in drop boxes, depending on the jurisdiction.
Vote CenterPhysical location where voters from multiple precincts may cast their ballots.
Voter Registration Term used by election officials when referring to a voter's record. Voter Registration also refers to the requirement for citizens to register with a state or local elections office in order to be eligible to receive an official ballot for a given election and to participate in certain election-related activities.
Voter Registration System (VR)A distributed or centralized system that permits the collection, storage, editing, deletion, and reporting of voter records. The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) requires each state to have a centralized, statewide voter registration system.
Voter-VerifiableA voting system feature that provides the voter an opportunity to verify that his or her ballot selections are being recorded correctly before the ballot is cast.
Voting EquipmentAll devices, including the voting machine, used to display the ballot, accept voter selections, record voter selections, and tabulate the votes.
Voting MachineSee Ballot Marking Device and Tabulator
Voting System The total combination of mechanical, electromechanical or electronic equipment (including the software, firmware and documentation required to program, control and support the equipment) used to define ballots, cast and count votes, report or display election results, maintain and produce any audit trail information and to make available any materials to the voter.
Voting System Test Laboratory (VSTLs)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.
Zero ReportReport produced prior to tabulation to check that there are no stored votes.