Electrostatically driven MEMS devices commonly operate with electric fields as high at 108 V/m applied across the dielectric between electrodes. Even with the best mechanical design, the electrical design of these devices has a large impact both on performance (e.g., speed and stability) and on reliability (e.g., corrosion and dielectric or gas breakdown). In this paper, we discuss the reliability and performance implications of leakage currents in the bulk and on the surface of the dielectric insulating the drive (or sense) electrodes from one another. Anodic oxidation of poly-silicon electrodes can occur very rapidly in samples that are not hermetically packaged. The accelerating factors are presented along with an efficient early-warning scheme. The relationship between leakage currents and the accumulation of quasistatic charge in dielectrics are discussed, along with several techniques to mitigate charging and the associated drift in electrostatically actuated or sensed MEMS devices. Two key parameters are shown to be the electrode geometry and the conductivity of the dielectric. Electrical breakdown in submicron gaps is presented as a function of packaging gas and electrode spacing. We discuss the tradeoffs involved in choosing gap geometries and dielectric properties that balance performance and reliability.