Citizens, technologists and civil society movements across the globe are demanding more openness in government, including government data, so that they can ensure public institutions are more transparent, responsive and accountable. In addition, electoral management bodies (EMBs) around the world are making public more electoral data. The National Democratic Institute (NDI or the Institute) has a keen interest in ensuring that key electoral data is available and in helping stakeholders use that data to enhance the integrity of elections and hold electoral management bodies (EMBs) and other electoral actors to account. NDI plans to leverage its capacity, experience and long-standing relationships with citizen observer groups around the globe to help them use this document to access electoral data, evaluate the integrity of elections and advance political and governmental accountability. NDI is the leading organization worldwide in providing technical assistance to nonpartisan election monitoring organizations, assisting over 400 groups in more than 95 countries to monitor more than 300 elections and to mobilize more than three million observers.

UN Photo, Martine Perret

The first section of the guide, Electoral Integrity, lays out the four guiding elements -- transparency, accountability, inclusiveness and competitiveness -- necessary for elections to have integrity. The second section, Open Election Data Principles, outlines the nine principles that make electoral data open (i.e., timely, finely grained, available for free on the internet, complete and in bulk, analyzable, non-proprietary, non-discriminatory, license-free, and permanently available. The third section outlines the major phases or Key Categories in Elections (e.g., Election Management Body Administration, Ballot Qualification, Campaign Finance, Voter Registration, Election Results, and Complaints and Disputes Resolution) as well as examples of the type of data that may be released for each category. The fourth section, Open Election Data in Practice: Examples from Latin America, highlights six countries as examples of how relevant, granular data is being provided in open, analyzable and bulk formats -- in other words, they meet many of the open election data principles. The countries are Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico and Peru.

In many cases, it is not the voters who are directly using the electoral data but rather election monitoring organizations, civic groups, political parties, and the media who are (re)using or re-purposing the data. These types of organizations are sometimes called "information intermediaries." These organizations may use their domain area knowledge to analyze the data and present the findings in a more digestible format for citizens. Or they may (re)mix the data and present it in a form that is easier for an individual to use. For example, the Voter Information Project in the United States re-uses data on the coordinates of polling place locations and combines it with data on electoral boundaries to provide voters with a way to find their specific polling place by entering their home address.

Resources on the process of opening data ("how")

This guide focuses on defining the key phases in an election process and outlines principles for how electoral data should be open to the public. Throughout the guide there are examples where EMBs have provided electoral data in varying degrees of openness. However, this guide does not cover the exact steps in the process of making data open because resources already exist on the topic of implementation. For guidance on the 'how' of opening data, please refer to the "How to Open Up Data" section of the Open Knowledge Foundation's Open Data Handbook. In terms of election data, legislative bodies and EMBs that are making policy, laws, regulations or other guidance should engage with the public, including actual and potential users of electoral data, as early and as fully as possible. For more information, see the following sources.

  • The UK's Open Data White Paper contains information about designing an engagement strategy and the use of community boards.
  • The World Bank's Open Government Data Working Group developed an Open Data Readiness Assessment (ODRA) tool that can be used to conduct "an action-oriented assessment of the readiness of a government or individual agency to evaluate, design and implement an Open Data initiative."
  • The Open Data Institute (ODI) has a short guide on engaging with reusers.
  • Making Data "License-Free" is a website that has example language that federal agencies in the United States can use. The site provides suggested language to make it clear that the publications are "license-free."

Timeline of Major Developments in Open Government and Open Data

  • 2006: Open Knowledge (then called the Open Knowledge Foundation or OKF) created their 'Open Definition' where they defined "open" in terms of "open data" and "open content." They summarize their longer 11-point definition by stating that "a piece of data or content is open if anyone is free to use, reuse, and redistribute it - subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and/or share-alike." It is worth noting that the when the Open Definition was written it was not specifically referring to government-held data; it was an attempt to define "openness" more broadly.
  • 2007: Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly Media and Carl Malamud of Public.Resource.Org hosted a meeting of thirty people interested in advocating for openness in government. The gathering was sponsored by Google, the Sunlight Foundation, and Yahoo. The working group attendees created and published "8 Principles of Open Government Data," marking one of the first attempts to apply open data principles to the area of government accountability.
  • 2011: The Open Government Partnership (OGP) was launched. The OGP is a multilateral initiative that includes both government and civil society participation so that governments become sustainably more transparent, accountable and responsive to their own citizens, with the ultimate goal of improving the quality of governance. Transparency & Accountability Initiative published the Open Government Guide, which was updated for the 2013 London OGP Summit; the Guide includes a chapter on elections.
  • 2012: Open Government Data: The Book was published by Joshua Tauberer, a civic hacker who founded, and co-organizes Open Data Day DC.
  • 2012: The Open Data Institute was founded by Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Professor Nigel Shadbolt to examine how open data creates larger economic, environmental, and social value.
  • 2012: The Sunlight Foundation published the Open Data Policy Guidelines to address what data should be public, how to make data public, and how to implement policy.
  • 2013: Leaders from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, USA and UK met for the G8 Summit. Transparency was one of three main issues taken up by the governments. As a result, the G8 governments issued and signed the Open Data Charter where they agreed that "open data are an untapped resource with huge potential to encourage the building of stronger, more interconnected societies that better meet the needs of our citizens and allow innovation and prosperity to flourish." In the Charter, the governments committed to developing open data action plans by the end of 2014 with the aim to implement the charter by the end of 2015 at the latest.
  • 2014: The second edition of Open Government Data: The Book was published.
  • 2014: The Open Knowledge Foundation (OKF) published the Global Open Data Index, which attempts to score a government's openness of data in areas such as budgeting, spending, national statistics, and legislation.