Cover of Chain of CustodyChain of Custody Best Practices (Full PDF Version)

Chain of custody is essential to a transparent and trustworthy election. Every election office should have written chain of custody procedures available for public inspection prior to every election. Once a chain of custody process is initiated, it must be followed with every step documented. Upon completion, the process should be reviewed and updated based on any lessons learned. This report outlines items election officials should consider when developing or revising their chain of custody procedures for physical election materials, voting systems, and the use of third-party auditors for conducting audits and electronic discovery.

Chain of Custody refers to the processes, or paper trail, that documents the transfer of materials from one person (or place) to the next. Every state and local jurisdiction has its own controls for ensuring the chain of custody of election materials is properly maintained. These controls may include locks, seals, audit logs, witness signatures, or other security measures. This document is intended to provide best practices, checklists, and sample forms for maintaining a proper chain of custody related to the successful operation of an election but is not meant to be comprehensive of every election process. Jurisdictions are reminded to implement these voluntary best practices only after reviewing federal, state, and local laws and regulations.
While the chain of custody process varies by jurisdiction, here are few key questions to keep in mind when developing your chain of custody materials:

  • Where is the item that is going to be transferred?
  • Are adequate safeguards in place?
  • Who currently has access to this item?
  • What makes this item unique (description, serial number, physical condition, etc.…)?
  • When and where is this item being transferred (time, date, location)?
  • Where is this item being transferred to?
  • Who is transferring this item?
  • What is the condition of the item to be delivered?
  • Who witnessed this transfer?
  • When and where did the item arrive?
  • What is the condition of the item upon receipt?

The chain of custody of ballots, voting equipment, and associated data is essential to ensure the election system remains trustworthy. Documentation of the chain of custody also provides evidence that all voting procedures were followed. It is a best practice for chain of custody procedures to be clearly defined in advance of every election, well documented and followed consistently throughout the entire election lifecycle or process.

The key to an effective chain of custody is to have a set of procedures which are followed in practice. The procedures should be in writing with all steps documented. Chain of custody should be thought about as a wholistic process that takes all required pieces (e.g., data collection, transparency, processing, review, etc.) into account.

Chain of Custody Best Practices (Full PDF Version)