Research Methodology of the FDA

The FDA research methodology is rooted in non-partisanship and the political concepts of egalitarianism and liberalism. A non-partisan approach allows the FDA to remain as objective as possible.

Egalitarianism is part of the FDA methodology from the standpoint of political equality (or neutrality), in which each person has one vote of equal value. The FDA extends political equality into non-election and election periods, demanding a relatively equal playing field for registered candidates and parties and broad and balanced political discourse. The FDA believes that political equality is a core component of democracy, whereby electoral legislation is neutral for all candidates and parties, the value of a vote is same for all eligible voters, and candidates and parties have an opportunity to disseminate political viewpoints in a reasonably balanced manner. The FDA recognizes that complete political equality is not likely attainable, but assumes that a reasonable state of political equality is possible.

Liberalism is part of the FDA methodology from the standpoint of political freedom, and progress, innovation, and reform through the freedom to initiate reform. The FDA believes that political freedom is also a core component of democracy, whereby candidates and parties, citizens, and media persons are permitted to express their political views.

The FDA believes that the union of freedom and equality, an essential part of democracy, means compromise for the greater democratic good of society and political freedom within the bounds of political equality.

Based on its research of international electoral systems and study of fundamental democratic concepts, the FDA believes that optimal democracy results from a balance of freedom and equality. Too much freedom can allow the most powerful (or wealthy) to dominate politically, and too much equality can weaken individual freedoms to a point that impedes progress and innovation. The FDA’s methodology centers on finding the optimal balance between freedom and equality.

The FDA methodology has two main components: research and audit. The research component is qualitative, based on collecting relevant facts and data, and sourcing the information collected using APA guidelines. The audit process too is qualitative but also employs a quantitative aspect. The audit entails team analysis of research using matrices and financial spread sheets and statistical data, and the interpretation of the audit results using scoring scales.


The FDA matrices are a detailed, spreadsheet scoring system of relevant data and information. The matrices’ scores conform to the concept of optimal democracy defined as a balance of freedom and equality. The purpose of the matrices is to objectify the audit process and help create result reliability through an established structure of scoring. Relevance to the electoral process and the four audit sections inform the variables in the matrices. To illustrate, the two subsections below were part of the matrices used in the Canadian electoral fairness audit:

Table 12 Media Election Coverage, Audit Matrix Section, for Canada



Example or Alternative Scale



Freedom of the Media

Is the freedom of the media (including journalists) established through constitutional or legislative law?

If yes<4; if no=0

The score of 4 represents the significance of media freedom within reasonable limits. The score of 0 represents imbalanced, one-sided political discourse in the media through unreasonable restrictions on media freedom.


Broad & Balanced Political Coverage

During the campaign period is the media (private and public) required legally to publish/broadcast broad/balanced coverage of registered candidates and parties?

If yes=2; if no=0; if freedom of media=0, then yes=0

The campaign period is the most heightened period in terms of voter awareness. The media due to its mass influence has the means to impact significantly electoral discourse. The requirement of balanced, broad media coverage would prevent the media from being imbalanced and partisan.


In this example, media freedom garnered significant weight (40 percent of the total score for election content of media) and value in other subsections. (As an example, see the intersection of column ‘Example or Alternative Scale’ and row ‘Impartial and Balanced Political Coverage’ above.) Impartial and Balanced Political Coverage is weighted on grounds of the democratic importance of a broad and balanced electoral discourse and a corresponding well-informed electorate. As mentioned, a positive or negative impact on the electoral process determines matrix weightings and scores. According to the scores in the matrix example above, the FDA assumes that freedom of media has more impact on the electoral process than impartial and balanced political coverage.

The FDA matrices are comprised of four sections:

  1. Electoral finance.
  2. Media election coverage.
  3. Candidates and parties.
  4. Voters.

In the electoral finance section there are 14 subsection variables; in election content of media section there are 11 subsection variables; in the candidates and parties section there are 42 subsection variables; and in the voters section there are 37 subsection variables. The subsection variables are the focal points of the audit. Each subsection variable has a weighted maximum score.

Weighting and Scoring

Overall, the soundness of reasons for scores and the relevancy of each area guides FDA grading. Since each audit section has a maximum and minimum score, subsection scores are determined based on their relation to each other and their impact on optimal democracy as related to the relevant section. The FDA acknowledges that the determination of scores is an unavoidable qualitative step. The FDA minimizes the subjectivity of scores through required group consensus on their values. ‘

Each audit section has a score range between 0 and 10, and each section counts equally. As mentioned, the FDA matrices allow, based on relevancy, subsections apply to multiple sections. For example, the subsection ‘electoral finance transparency’ is part of the electoral finance, voters and candidates and parties sections.

As illustrated in the matrix example above, scores are based on the formula if yes=#, if no=#. The scale rests on yes and no answers. In the case of ambiguous answers, the FDA uses the lesser than and greater than values (“<” and “>”). When these values are used, the FDA audit team attempts to reach consensus on the score, and if that it is not possible, the FDA takes the mean of the individual scores, with each score having equal weight. Relevant and sound evidence, facts, and/or reasons, whether team or individual, must support audit scores. To enhance the reliability of audit results, the FDA has a group of experienced auditors. An audit team has a minimum quorum of five auditors and maximum of nine auditors. Any auditors in excess of nine act as silent observers. New auditors are introduced to the process first as observers, then as researchers, and finally as auditors within a team of experienced auditors.


The FDA has an ongoing survey of relevant persons with a background in political science, finance, accounting or related field on the FDA’s main variables for electoral finance. The FDA used two surveys: a scoring table and preference table (reproduced below). The purpose of the surveys is to test the validity of FDA weights for its electoral finance variables.

Audit Focus

The FDA audits four electoral areas because they cover broad aspects of the electoral process. The FDA acknowledges that electoral laws may not necessarily correspond to the implementation of those laws or the public response to them. The implementation and response could be positive or negative, in terms of electoral fairness. Nevertheless, laws provide the foundation for democracy, framework for the electoral system, and an indication of electoral fairness. A country’s constitutional and/or electoral laws are part of the functionality of its democracy. The FDA acknowledges that in countries that are lawless, process audits are useless. However, in countries guided by the rule of law, process audits are extremely useful in determining electoral fairness.