Glossary of Election Terms

Abandoned Ballot

Ballot that the voter did not place in the ballot box before leaving the polling place.

Absentee Ballot

Ballot cast by a voter unable to vote in person at his or her polling place on Election Day.

Absentee Voting

Absentee voting is comprised of two methods by which registered voters may cast ballots other than the traditional method of appearing in person and casting a ballot on the day of the election. These methods are absentee by mail (civilian absentee voting and military and overseas citizens absentee voting) and absentee in-person (one-stop absentee voting). This is also referred to as "early voting."

Acceptance Testing

Examination of a voting system and its components by the purchasing election authority (usually in a simulated-use environment) to validate performance of delivered units in accordance with procurement requirements, and to validate that the delivered system is, in fact, the certified system purchased.


Measurable characteristics that indicate the degree to which a system is available to, and usable by, individuals with disabilities. The most common disabilities include those associated with vision, hearing and mobility, as well as cognitive disabilities.

Accessible Voting Station

Voting station equipped for individuals with disabilities.


(1) Extent to which a given measurement agrees with an accepted standard for that measurement. (2) Closeness of the agreement between the result of a measurement and a true value of the particular quantity subject to measurement. Accuracy is a qualitative concept and is not interchangeable with precision.

Accuracy for Voting Systems

Ability of the system to capture, record, store, consolidate and report the specific selections and absence of selections, made by the voter for each ballot position without error. Required accuracy is defined in terms of an error rate that for testing purposes represents the maximum number of errors allowed while processing a specified volume of data.


Sworn statement form, sworn and subscribed to.


To associate as a member, as in, a political party or organization.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA is a federal law that was enacted by Congress in 1990 and signed into law on July 26, 1990 by President George H. W Bush. The ADA is a wide-ranging civil rights law that prohibits, under certain circumstances, discrimination based on disability.

At Large

Relating to or being a political representative who is elected to serve an entire area rather than one of its subdivisions.

Audio Ballot

A ballot in which a set of offices is presented to the voter in spoken, rather than written, form.


Systematic, independent, documented process for obtaining records, statements of fact or other relevant information and assessing them objectively to determine the extent to which specified requirements are fulfilled.


The official presentation of all of the contests to be decided in a particular election.

Ballot Access

Ballot access refers to the process by which candidates and political parties qualify for the primary and general election ballots.

Ballot Instructions

Information provided to the voter during the voting session that describes the procedure for executing a ballot. Such material may (but need not) appear directly on the ballot.

Ballot Measure

(1) A question that appears on the ballot for approval or rejection. (2) A contest on a ballot where the voter may vote yes or no.

Ballot Style

The ballot style you receive will be determined by your place of residence.


Person contending in a contest for office. A candidate may be explicitly presented as one of the choices on the ballot or may be a write-in candidate.


Compilation of election returns and validation of the outcome that forms the basis of the official results by political subdivision.

Cast Ballot

Ballot that has been deposited by the voter in the ballot box or electronically submitted for tabulation.


A closed meeting of a group of persons belonging to the same political party or faction usually to select candidates or to decide on policy.

Certificate of Election

A document prepared by the official or body with the legal authority to do so, conferring upon a candidate the right to assume an elective office as a result of being elected to it.

Certification Testing

Testing performed under either national or state certification processes to verify voting system conformance to requirements.

Challenged Ballot

Ballot provided to individuals who claim they are registered and eligible to vote but whose eligibility or registration status cannot be confirmed when they present themselves to vote. Once voted, such ballots must be kept separate from other ballots and are not included in the tabulation until after the voter's eligibility is confirmed. Michigan is an exception in that they determine voter eligibility before a ballot is issued.

Closed Primary

Primary election in which voters receive a ballot listing only those candidates running for office in the political party with which the voters are affiliated. In some states, non-partisan contests and ballot issues may be included. In some cases, political parties may allow unaffiliated voters to vote in their party's primary.


Decision to be made within an election, which may be a contest for office or a referendum, proposition and/or question. A single ballot may contain one or more contests.

Counted Ballot

Ballot that has been processed and whose votes are included in the candidates and measures vote totals.

Curbside Voting

In any election or referendum, if any qualified voter is able to travel to the voting place, but because of age or physical disability and physical barriers encountered at the voting place is unable to enter the voting enclosure to vote in person without physical assistance, that voter shall be allowed to vote either in the vehicle conveying that voter or in the immediate proximity of the voting place.


A government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.


With respect to an individual: (1) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual; (2) a record of such an impairment; (3) being regarded as having such an impairment (definition from the Americans with Disabilities Act).

Early Voting

Broadly, voting conducted before election day where the voter completes the ballot in person at a county office or other designated polling place or ballot drop site prior to election day.


An act or process of electing; the right, power, or privilege of making a choice.

Election Databases

Data file or set of files that contain geographic information about political subdivisions and boundaries, all contests and questions to be included in an election, and the candidates for each contest.

Election District

Contiguous geographic area represented by a public official who is elected by voters residing within the district boundaries. The district may cover an entire state or political subdivision, may be a portion of the state or political subdivision, or may include portions of more than one political subdivision.

Election Officials

The people associated with administering and conducting elections, including government personnel and poll workers.

Electoral College

The Electoral College consists of the electors appointed by each state who formally elect the President and Vice President of the United States.

Electronic Poll Book

An electronic poll book is typically either hardware, software or a combination of the two that allows elections officials to review and/or process voter information during an election but does not actually count votes. This software or hardware is used in place of paper-based poll books, which are typically three-ring binders. Often, the functions of an electronic poll book include voter lookup, verification, identification, precinct assignment, ballot assignment, voter history update and other functions such as name change, address change and/or redirecting voters to correct voting location.


The ExpressVote is a machine used to assist voters with disabilities and other special needs to mark a ballot privately and independently. The ExpressVote is used in all of Gaston County's voting precincts and any voter may use it to vote.

Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA)

FECA is a United States federal law which increased disclosure of contributions for federal campaigns. It was amended in 1974 to place legal limits on the campaign contributions.

Federal Election Commission (FEC)

The FEC is the independent regulatory agency that was founded in 1975 by the United States Congress to regulate the campaign finance legislation in the United States. It was created in a provision of the 1975 amendment to the Federal Election Campaign Act. It describes its duties as "to disclose campaign finance information, to enforce the provisions of the law such as the limits and prohibitions on contributions, and to oversee the public funding of Presidential elections."

Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP)

FVAP exists to (1) assist uniformed services and overseas voters exercise their right to vote so that they have an equal opportunity with the general population to have their vote counted; (2) assist the states in complying with the relevant federal laws, and advise them on ways to best comply and (3) advocate on behalf of the uniformed services and overseas voters, identifying impediments to their ability to exercise their right to vote, and proposing methods to overcome those impediments.

Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (FWAB)

The Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot is a write-in ballot for use by overseas American citizens. Under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, the ballot was created for citizens who "have made a timely application for but have not received their regular ballot from the state or territory, subject to certain conditions."

Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA)

HAVA is a United States federal law signed into law in 2002. The goals of HAVA are to (1) replace punch card and lever-based voting systems; (2) create the Election Assistance Commission to assist in the administration of Federal elections; and (3) establish minimum election administration standards.


The incumbent, in politics, is the current officeholder of a political office.


Guarding against improper information modification or destruction, and ensuring information non-repudiation and authenticity.

Logic & Accuracy (L&A) Testing

Testing of the tabulator setups of a new election definition to ensure that the content correctly reflects the election being held (i.e., contests, candidates, number to be elected, ballot styles) and that all voting positions can be voted for the maximum number of eligible candidates and that results are accurately tabulated and reported.

M100 Voting Machine

The M100 voting machine is a precinct-based, voter-activated paper ballot counter and vote tabulator. The M100 is used in all of Gaston County's precincts.

Municipal Elections

Elections that focus on electing officials at the local level - towns and cities.

Nonpartisan Election

Election for which candidates run without political party affiliation.

Open Primary

Primary election in which any voters can participate, regardless of their political affiliation. Some states require voters to publicly declare their choice of party ballot at the polling place, after which the poll worker provides or activates the appropriate ballot. Other states allow the voters to make their choice of party ballot within the privacy of the voting booth.

Optical Scan System

System by which votes are recorded by means of marks made in voting response fields designated on one or both faces of a ballot card or series of cards. An optical scan system reads and tabulates ballots, usually paper ballots, by scanning the ballot and interpreting the contents.


Voting for more than the maximum number of selections allowed in a contest.

Partisan Election

Election for which candidates run with a political party affiliation.


An excess of votes over those cast for an opposing candidate; a number of votes cast for a candidate in a contest of more than two candidates that is greater than the number cast for any other candidate but not more than half the total votes cast.

Political Action Committee (PAC)

A group formed (as by an industry or an issue-oriented organization) to raise and contribute money to the campaigns of candidates likely to advance the group's interests.

Political Party

A political party is a political organization that typically seeks to influence government policy, usually by nominating their own candidates and trying to seat them in political office.


The casting or recording of the votes of a body of persons; a counting of votes cast; the place where votes are cast or recorded; the period of time during which votes may be cast at an election; the total number of votes recorded.

Poll Worker

A poll worker is an official responsible for the proper and orderly voting in local precincts; used in the same context as precinct official.

Polling Place

Facility to which voters are assigned to cast in-person ballots.


Election administration division corresponding to a contiguous geographic area that is the basis for determining which contests and issues the voters legally residing in that area are eligible to vote on.

Precinct Official

A precinct official is an official responsible for the proper and orderly voting in local precincts; used in the same context as poll worker.

Primary Election

Election held to determine which candidate will represent a political party for a given office in the general election. Some states have an open primary, while others have a closed primary. Sometimes elections for nonpartisan offices and ballot issues are held during primary elections.


The ability to prevent others from determining how an individual voted.

Provisional Ballot

Ballot provided to individuals who claim they are registered and eligible to vote but whose eligibility or registration status cannot be confirmed when they present themselves to vote. Once voted, such ballots must be kept separate from other ballots and are not included in the tabulation until after the voter's eligibility is confirmed. In some jurisdictions this is called an affidavit ballot.


A process of verifying election results by counting the initial results a second time.


To divide anew into districts; specifically, to revise the legislative districts of an area.


Process whereby a state law or constitutional amendment may be referred to the voters before it goes into effect.


A person who has been chosen to speak or vote for somebody else or on behalf of a group.


A government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law

Restoration of Voting Rights

The restoration of voting rights removes the person's disqualification from voting, but that in order to vote the person must register to vote.

Run-off Election

Election to select a winner following a primary or a general election in which no candidate in the contest received the required minimum percentage of the votes cast. The two candidates receiving the most votes for the contest in question proceed to the run-off election.

Sample Ballot

The county board of elections shall produce sample ballots, in all the necessary ballot styles of the official ballot, for every election to be held in the county. The sample ballots shall be given an appearance that clearly distinguishes them from official ballots. The county board shall distribute sample ballots to the chief judge of every precinct in which the election is to be conducted. The chief judge shall post a sample ballot in the voting place and may use it for instructional purposes. The county board of elections may use the sample ballot for other informational purposes.

Split Precinct

A precinct that contains an election district subdivision, e.g., a water district or school board district, requiring an additional ballot configuration.

Spoiled Ballot

Ballot that has been voted but will not be cast.


A law enacted by the legislative branch of a government

Straight Party Voting

Mechanism that allows voters to cast a single vote to select all candidates on the ballot from a single political party.


The right of voting and the exercise of such right.

U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC)

The EAC is an independent agency of the United States government created by the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA). The Commission serves as a national clearinghouse and resource of information regarding election administration. It is charged with administering payments to states and developing guidance to meet HAVA requirements, adopting voluntary voting system guidelines, and accrediting voting system test laboratories and certifying voting equipment. It is also charged with developing and maintaining a national mail voter registration form.

Uniformed & Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA)

The UOCAVA is a United States federal law signed in 1986 dealing with elections and voting rights for United States citizens residing overseas.


Occurs when the number of choices selected by a voter in a contest is less than the maximum number allowed for that contest or when no selection is made for a single choice contest.

Valid Vote

Vote from a ballot or ballot image that is legally acceptable according to state law.


An indication of approval or disapproval of a proposal, motion, or candidate for office.

Voted Ballot

Ballot that contains all of a voter's selections and has been cast.


To choose, endorse, decide the disposition of, defeat, or authorize by vote.

Voting Booth

A voting booth is an enclosure in a polling station where voters are able to cast their vote in private to protect the secrecy of the ballot.

Voting Equipment

All devices, including the voting machine, used to display the ballot, accept voter selections, record voter selections, and tabulate the votes.

Voting Machine

The mechanical, electromechanical and electric components of a voting system that the voter uses to view the ballot, indicate his/her selections, and verify those selections. In some instances, the voting machine also casts and tabulates the votes.

Voting Station

The location within a polling place where voters may record their votes. A voting station includes the area, location, booth or enclosure where voting takes place as well as the voting machine.

Voting System

The total combination of mechanical, electromechanical or electronic equipment (including the software, firmware, and documentation required to program, control, and support the equipment) that is used to define ballots; to cast and count votes; to report or display election results; and to maintain and produce any audit trail information; and the practices and associated documentation used to identify system components and versions of such components; to test the system during its development and maintenance; to maintain records of system errors and defects; to determine specific system changes to be made to a system after the initial qualification of the system; and to make available any materials to the voter (such as notices, instructions, forms or paper ballots).

Write-in Voting

To make a selection of an individual not listed on the ballot. In some jurisdictions, voters may do this by using a marking device to physically write their choice on the ballot or they may use a keypad, touch screen or other electronic means to enter the name.