Elections are the essence of democracy. They allow people to select their political leaders and then to hold them accountable.
But for elections to fulfill their critical function, they must be free and fair. Just holding an election is not enough: if some citizens are prevented from voting or the results are not counted properly, an election can’t be called “free and fair.”
What is a free and fair election?
A free election is one in which all citizens are able to vote for the candidate of their choice, and a fair election is one in which all votes have equal power and are counted accurately.
There are standards that governments need to meet before, during, and after an election to ensure that an election is free and fair.
The eight standards that follow define an ideal. Most countries meet them imperfectly, but the more standards that are met, the more accurately an election represents the will of the people.
One Person, One Vote
The phrase “one person, one vote” is often used as a shorthand for free and fair elections. The principle of “one person, one vote” means that every person has the ability to vote, and each vote has equal power. In the electoral system of the United States, this principle does not always hold in a literal sense. For instance, equal state representation in the US Senate means that individual votes in less populous states have more power in the Senate and electoral college than individual votes in more populous states. Watch the video One Person, One Vote: Baker v. Carr and Reynolds v. Sims to learn more about the concept of “one person, one vote” and the court cases that require states to follow this principle.