Election glossary: Understand common terms

Use this handy resource when you want to learn, or double check, the meaning of a political term

click to enlarge Election glossary: Understand common terms
Outlier Media

Politics has a lot of specialized terms and candidates, talking heads, and officials sometimes use these terms to make things seem harder to understand. Use this handy resource when you want to learn, or double check, some of these terms.

Absentee ballot – A voting ballot that is completed prior to the election and is submitted through mail and/or submitted at a designated location. In Michigan, voters can cast ballots early for any reason.

Ad – An advertisement, such as television/radio commercials or newspaper/magazine promotions. Candidates use ads during election campaigns, also known as political solicitation, to seek and capture more votes by distributing materials such as fliers, brochures, etc to voters.

Agenda – A political agenda is a set of topics or issues that a candidate focuses on. A party’s platform establishes its agenda.

Apathy – A lack of interest among voters in electing representatives because they feel their participation will not matter. It is often the reason why low voter turnout occurs.

Ballot – A ballot is used to cast and record votes to be counted on Election Day. A voter can cast their ballot at a polling station or by mail as an absentee.

Ballot box – A secured box that stores marked voter ballots until the end of Election Day.

Bipartisanship – When two opposing political parties agree or compromise on an issue in order to pass legislation.

Branches of Government – The United States has three branches of government established by the U.S. Constitution: The Executive Branch, Legislative Branch, and Judicial Branch. The Executive Branch refers to the office of president, vice president, and presidential cabinet. The Legislative involves the House of Representatives and the Senate collectively known as the Congress. The Judicial Branch is the court system with the Supreme Court as the top court of the nation.

Campaign – An organized effort that implements several strategies and events in order to gain votes.

Campaign committee – A group of people formed to advise a candidate on strategies to implement to obtain sufficient votes to be elected to office.

Campaign finance – The donations or funds raised to promote candidates or initiatives and to pay for campaign expenses, such as travel, advertisement, and printing, etc.

Campaign manager – A person chosen by a candidate to oversee all aspects of a political campaign. They develop strategies that acquire and maintain efficient staffing, fundraising, analysis of polling data, and media promotion with the goal of promoting the candidate to gain political office during an election period.

Political strategist – Much like a campaign manager, the strategist promotes the campaign’s message across a variety of media. They monitor the candidate’s speeches and interviews to make sure the correct message is promoted throughout the campaign.

Candidate – A person who applies to run for a position and meets the requirements.

Caucus – A conference where political party members select candidates to represent the interests of the party.

Citizen – An individual who is a legal resident and member of the country either through birth or naturalization.

Clerk – A person charged with certain clerical or recording duties and responsibilities.

Closed primary election – This is an election open only to voters registered with a given party to vote in that party’s primary election.

Commissioner – A person who is appointed onto a commission to perform certain duties. For example, a police commissioner or a county commissioner oversees the department’s planning and other affairs.

Common good – This refers to a shared benefit for the public and/or citizens that keeps in mind their well-being.

Confirmation – When a sitting president appoints an individual, referred to as a presidential appointee, to an administrative position the U.S. Senate must confirm that appointment through a majority vote.

Congress – The House of Representatives and the Senate make up Congress. Members of Congress conduct the business of the United States government and initiate laws and policies.

Congressional district – A geographic area in which a citizen is elected to represent residents within that area at the national level in the House of Representatives as their Congressman/Congresswoman.

Conservative – A citizen who identifies with the Republican Party and its philosophies/policies.

Constituency – A specific area in which an elected member of office represents.

Constituent – An individual who emanates from the same geographic area as the elected official who represents them.

Constitution – A set of policies/laws that established the government of the United States of America and its governance. It grants citizens the right to participate in the governance of the country through voting.

Constitutional right – Protections and liberties that are written and guaranteed in the United States Constitution.

Convention – The Republican and Democratic parties hold political conventions every election cycle to nominate candidates that best fit in with their party’s principle.

Council – A group of people designated or elected to serve in an advisory, administrative, or legislative capacity.

Councilman – A male member of a council.

Councilwoman – A female member of a council.

Council member – A member of a council, especially a legislative council.

County commission – A form of local government that functions at the county level .

Crossover vote – When a voter casts a ballot for a party other than their usual political affiliation during a primary election.

Dark money – Money that is donated to a political candidate during an election campaign from organizations that are not required to disclose their donor’s identities. This money usually attempts to influence elections.

Debate – A public debate between candidates to share their political opinions and proposed policies. This is usually televised during the election cycle.

Delegate – An individual who has been elected to represent a group of people in a political setting.

Democracy – A form of government governed by elected officials that empowers its citizens to exercise political control through voting.

Democrat – A citizen who prescribes to and agrees with the platform and policies of the Democratic Party.

democratic – (lower case) Of or pertaining to democracy.

Democratic – (capitalized) Of or pertaining to the Democratic Party.

District – A geographical area that is divided into smaller areas for the purpose of electoral representation in each area. Look up what Detroit district you reside in here.

Economy – A system of commerce coupled with a monetary system; The United States economy functions on a free market basis meaning supply and demand govern trade, and the manufacturing and sales of goods and services.

Elect – To officially select a decision by voting for a candidate or proposal.

Election – The process of citizens casting their votes to select government officials.

Election campaign – The process by which a candidate seeks election or reelection to an office through an organized effort to gain votes.

Election committee – A group formed for purposes of monitoring an election.

Election integrity – An open and fair election process.

Electoral – An adjective that is used to describe anything pertaining to an election.

Electoral vote – The Electoral College Act established special electors for presidential elections. Each state has a particular number of presidential electors who are members of the electoral college. The candidate who reaches the majority of the electoral college votes first wins the presidential election.

Electorate – The number of citizens who are legally eligible to vote during any election.

Electors – Citizens who are legally eligible to vote and cast a vote during any election.

Executive order – A function of the president to declare and/or execute certain rules, actions or policies.

Federal – A term that refers to the federal government.

Federal government – A centralized operation formed by individual states in the United States of America (USA) for purposes of governing.

Felon – A person who has been convicted of a crime. A felon is someone who is prohibited from voting.

Form of government – A statutory organization of an entity, based upon its composition, designed to operate according to the will of its ruling party. The United States’ form of government is a democracy.

Franchise – The constitutional right to vote in a public election.

General election – The main election period where candidates are voted into offices, following the primary election. This usually takes place in November.

Gerrymandering – A process that manipulates electoral district boundaries to favor one party or candidate over another.

Governing body – A group that has the authority to regulate or formulate policies of an institution.

Govern – The act of establishing policies and laws that direct the behaviors and actions of a state, institution or people.

Governor – The elected executive of a U.S. state. Governors initiate new policies, enforce laws, manage budgets, and oversee regulation of courts, and state agencies for the betterment of the residents.

Gubernatorial – Of or pertaining to a state governor or their office.

Gubernatorial election – The selection process of citizens casting their votes to choose a candidate to serve as state governor.

House of Representatives – There are 435 voting representatives elected from across the country that make up this part of Congress. The number of representatives that each state sends to the house is based upon that state’s population through a process known as apportionment.

Ideology – The ideas and beliefs that form the basis of economic, political theory, and policy.

Impartial – Feeling unbiased or neutral toward a particular position or point of view.

Inaugural ball – A large social gathering held to celebrate the commencement of a new presidential term.

Inaugurate – To officially swear into the office that was won at election.

Inauguration – The day an elected official is sworn into office.

Incumbent – The incumbent is the current holder of an office or position who is running for re-election in that position.

Independent – A citizen or politician who does not affiliate with any political party.

Independent voter – A citizen who does not identify with either the Democratic or Republican parties and votes for candidates based on issues rather than political ideologies.

Judicial – Of or pertaining to a court or judge.

Law – A set of rules and regulations that govern the behavior of citizens within a state or country.

Legislative body – This consists of the elected members of the House of Representatives and the Senate who create and enact laws.

Legislature – A group of elected representatives who convene for the purpose of creating and enacting laws.

Liberal – A citizen who leans toward the Democratic Party and the part of the party platform that suggests the government should support social and political change.

Legislative Council – A group of people who convene for the purpose of creating rules and regulations as they relate to the governance of a particular area, situation, or circumstance.

Libertarian – A supporter of minimal state intervention in the lives of citizens and advocates for more free choice for citizens.

Lieutenant governor – The second highest position in state government following the governor. The lieutenant governor is the assistant to the governor.

Lobby – The process of persuading government officials to vote on specific issues in a manner that is beneficial to the lobbyist’s interests.

Local government – A type of government that governs a smaller geographic location. Some examples of local government are city, village, or township governments with mayoral, manager, or commissioner leadership respectively.

Major party – The United States has a two-party political system: Republicans and Democrats. They control the highest offices of leadership in the government. Other parties, such as Independents, do not have enough citizens to control the highest offices of government.

Majority rule – In an election, the candidate who receives more than half of the votes, or more than 51%, from the electorate wins the election. In Congress, majority rule applies to bills and decisions that require a vote.

Mayor – An elected official of the highest office in a city. The mayor establishes the budget, manages the city’s resources, and oversees the police, fire, and public works departments.

Mayoral – Of or pertaining to a mayor or the mayor’s office.

Member – A member of a legislative body like Congress.

Moderate – An individual who prescribes to the philosophies and policies that would be considered “in the middle” on political issues. They do not prescribe to extreme left or right policies.

Non-Partisan – Non-partisan refers to issues, proposals or elections that do not identify with any political party. For example, proposals to continue funding for public libraries or zoos are non-partisan. The city clerk’s office is also non-partisan as they are responsible for administering elections.

Office – A public and political position that is held by an elected official.

Official – An elected individual who formally occupies a public position.

Opponent – A foe who has a different political position, party or whose views are directly against the views of another person running for office.

Partisan – A citizen who strongly agrees with and supports a particular political party.

Partisanship – A bias or favor toward a particular political party.

Party – A group of citizens who unite under common political philosophies and policies.

Party platform – A list of the philosophies and policies of a particular political party. Each major party has a convention of leaders that determine and publish the philosophies and policies of the party.

Plank – A party’s platform is broken down into planks, which are declarations or opinions on specific issues.

Plurality – In an election, the candidate with the highest percentage of votes from the electorate wins the election.

Political – Of or pertaining to politics.

Political Action Committees – a political committee organized for the purpose of raising and spending money to elect and defeat candidates.

Political affiliation – Alignment and agreement with a political party or group.

Political apathy – A lack of interest in politics or political matters, such as voting.

Political campaign – Strategies and/or events used or performed to be elected to a political office.

Political cartoon – A cartoon that editorializes a particular political ideology.

Political extremism – A political term that refers to the rejection of democratic norms and governance. Individuals and groups who have become “radicalized” demonstrate intolerance toward others; problem solving; and denounce the existing social order. An example of political extremism is the philosophy that the government should not play a significant role in the lives of citizens.

Political ideology – Thoughts, ideas, and philosophies relative to political themes and concepts.

Political issue – Policy ideas or areas of support for which a candidate campaigns during an election period. Examples of such issues can include racism and racial inequality, healthcare and human rights.

Political office – A position within a government.

Political radicalization – When individuals or groups seek to obtain power or to disrupt the existing power base by promoting philosophies that are divergent and in direct opposition to the status quo.

Politician – A person who actively holds or seeks an elected position within a government office with the goal to propose, oppose, or create laws that govern society.

Poll – The process of recording votes.

Poll worker – A citizen hired by a governmental authority that conducts elections who perform tasks which enable votes to be cast and elections to take place.

Poll watcher – Someone from a political party who is engaged to monitor the actions taking place at voting locations.

Polling place/station – The physical location identified as a voter’s place to cast a vote. The locations are assigned to voter’s according to ward or precinct based upon residential zip code.

Pollster – A surveyor; someone who collects data and offers predictions of outcomes.

Popular vote – The vote of the people. The candidate who gained the most votes on election day by the people as opposed to electoral votes, received the popular vote.

Precinct – An identified geographic jurisdiction that contains a particular number of eligible voters.

Precinct delegate – An individual elected from a precinct who provides certain political services to candidates running for office, such as connectivity to party resources and attending party conventions.

Presidential election – The race for the Office of President of the United States.

Primary election – An election in which the candidates for an office are initially determined. Usually, this is when the candidates under the same party are narrowed down.

Progressive – A person who identifies with a particular political philosophy that has been termed progressive. Progressives think that the resources of the government should be used to solve the problems of the people.

Propaganda – Biased information put forth by an entity or group through advertisements or flyers for the purpose of persuading public opinion.

Proposal – This is a suggested policy that shows up on the ballot to vote on. Some examples of proposals are to legalize marijuana or to allocate tax revenue.

Radical – An individual who takes a position outside of the status quo or generally accepted notions.

Registered mail – Mail that is registered and recorded at the post office.

Republic – A representative form of government. Citizens vote to send candidates to represent them in the government.

Republican – An individual who prescribes to the philosophies and policies of the Republican Party.

Resident – An individual who resides within a certain jurisdiction.

Secretary of State – An office with state or federal governments with various responsibilities over elections, registration of vehicles/identification, and election supervision. On the federal level the Secretary of State heads the State Department which is an office of the president’s cabinet.

Senate – There are 100 senators that make up this part of Congress. Two people are elected from each state to represent their state at the federal level.

Speaker of the House – A representative elected from one of the 50 states who rises to the top position in the House of Representatives. Their role is to conduct the business of the House in the United States Congress.

Special interest group – An individual or business with a self-serving agenda; They seek to have a government official vote on matters that support their individual or business agenda as opposed to the public good.

State(s) – The United States comprises 50 states. Each is a semi-sovereign republic that shares sovereignty with the federal government of the United States.

State government – Each state has its own constitution which establishes how the state will operate. The governor is the elected leader of the state.

Subversion – an attempt to undermine or overthrow a political system or government, made by someone working from within.

Super PAC – A Political Action Committee that makes no contributions to candidates or parties but makes independent expenditures in federal races – running ads or sending mail or communicating in other ways with messages that specifically advocate the election or defeat of a specific candidate.

Supreme Court – The highest judicial court in the United States. There are nine justices that make up the court.

Swearing In – A ceremony where the elected official takes an Oath of Office and officially takes over the role.

System – An organization of components structured to fulfill a purpose or complete tasks harmoniously, such as the governance of a society.

Tax abatement – A discount or reduction of property and/or income taxes pertaining to a particular development and developer levied by a municipality.

Term – A length of time to serve in a political office.

Types of government – In the United States, there are three types of governments : municipal (local, which includes city, villages, and townships); state (includes county); and federal.

Veto – A power that enables the executive to strike down a law passed by legislators. Mayors, governors and presidents hold this power.

Vice president – Second in command of the United States; operates under the supervision of the President of the United States as a part of the Executive Branch of government. It is the second highest government office of the United States.

Vote – The act of casting a ballot to make a decision about candidates and/or proposals following an election campaign on election day. The voter can place his or her vote in person or by mail as an absentee.

Voter – Citizens and residents of the United States that are registered to cast their votes in an election.

Voter apathy – A lack of interest in politics or political matters, such as voting, because of the feeling that their participation will not make a difference.

Voting Rights Act – A law that was passed in 1965 to prohibit racial discrimination from voting. It grants classes of citizens the ability to participate fully in the governance of the United States of America to elect leaders to represent them in the government.

Voting booth – This is a small and secure area for a voter to cast their ballot for an election. It is located at a physically assigned polling place according to the voter’s residence and is identified as a precinct.

White House – The official physical residence and business address of the President of the United States. The White House is located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.

Women’s suffrage – Laws that grant women the ability to vote and participate fully in electing leaders to represent them in government.

Write-in candidate – A candidate for public office whose name does not appear on a ballot, due to not having secured the nomination of a political party. In this case, the voter will write in the name of the candidate on the ballot and cast their vote for that candidate.

Read the rest of the Detroit Documenters Voters Guide and look up any unfamiliar terms in our vote with confidence glossary. Still have questions about voting in Detroit? Email us at [email protected].

Originally published by our media partner Outlier Media. It is republished with permission.

Stay connected with Detroit Metro Times. Subscribe to our newsletters, and follow us on Google News, Apple News, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, or TikTok.

Scroll to read more Politics & Elections articles


Join Detroit Metro Times Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.