Voting Law Glossary

FindLaw's voting law series has a wealth of in-depth information about the ins and outs of U.S. voting-related regulations and processes. But in case you need a one-stop place for some commonly used voting law terms, this brief glossary should help.
Absentee Ballot:
This is filled out by a voter who can't be at their polling place on election day. Most commonly used by those traveling, living abroad, at school in a different state, or in the military.
Approval Voting:
A system that lets voters pick as many candidates as they'd like. In this system, every candidate chosen receives a vote, and the candidate doesn't need to get a majority of votes.
Automatic Voter Registration:
The automatic registration of citizens to vote is often carried out by motor vehicle services offices. Proponents of this system say it helps maintain up-to-date voter records and increases participation.
Blank Ballot:
A ballot filled out incompletely, or not at all. By law, all ballots are to be counted whether or not they're completed.
Blanket Primary:
A primary election that allows voters to choose one candidate for each office, no matter what party the candidate belongs to. Under this system, only one highest vote-getter from each party is allowed to advance to the general election.
A tiny piece of paper punched out of a paper card ballot. A "dimpled chad" shows a visible indentation but is not punched all the way out. A "hanging chad" is detached, but again, not punched all the way out. These types of chads were a major issue in the contested 2000 presidential election.
Closed Primary:
A primary election where people may vote only if they are registered members of that party before Election Day. This requires a voter to declare a party affiliation before voting.
Compulsory Voting:
Laws that require citizens to vote. Mandatory voting laws in some countries come with punishment for those who don't comply. In contrast, laws in other countries are not enforced.
Contested Election:
An election where the losing candidate in the election demands a recount of votes. An election is most commonly contested when the margin of votes tallied is close enough to be challenged.
The act of preventing people from voting.
Election Fraud:
Any criminal activity that ruins the integrity of an election. Examples of election fraud include ballot tampering and bribery.
Election Official:
Sometimes called election clerks, election judges, or poll workers, these are people tasked with making sure all goes smoothly at a polling place. Their duties might include counting official votes, conducting a fair election, or keeping an eye on the voting process on Election Day.
Electoral System:
Laws and procedures that oversee how elections are run. The main purpose of the electoral system is to establish how much weight the votes in a specific state or district should carry.
A controversial practice in which district boundary lines are moved to give an advantage to a candidate or party. Incumbent office-holders and their parties are often the ones who practice gerrymandering to keep power by manipulating those boundary lines.
Help America Vote Act (HAVA):
A 2002 federal law designed to bring consistency to the use of challenged ballots. HAVA makes states and local governments upgrade their election process. This includes voting machines, registration, and training for poll workers.
Instant Runoff Voting:
Also called ranked-choice voting, this allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference. So far, this system is rare in the United States.
Logic and Accuracy Testing:
The process of finding and fixing malfunctioning voting devices or systems before an election. Election judges do these tests well before election day, often under the guidance of state laws.
Open Primary:
A primary election that doesn't require voters to be officially affiliated with a particular party. Or, open primaries let a voter change their party affiliation before voting.
Provisional Ballot:
The ballot used for questions or issues regarding the identity or eligibility of the voter. This vote is counted only after confirming all information.
When votes in a close election are counted again, usually under the supervision of legislative or judicial officials.
Tactical Voting:
When a voter deliberately casts a ballot for the weakest candidate of the party they oppose -- only to keep that party's stronger candidate from winning.
When a voter decides to vote in fewer races than are available, or for fewer candidates than allowed.
Vote Dilution:
An unlawful system that renders minority voters' votes less effective than those of other voters. This is done via district lines that divide minority communities, thus ruining their ability to muster a representative vote.
Voter Challenge:
When it's claimed that someone is not eligible to vote. The most common type of voter challenge takes place when a voter's name fails to match the name in the polling place's registration book.
Voter Fraud:
The act of illegally interfering with the results of an election. Examples might include illegally registering voters, tampering with voting machines, or paying people to vote a certain way.
Voter ID Laws:
Laws that mandate photo identification as a prerequisite to voting.
Voter Intent:
A system of counting ballots in an attempt to make them agree with what seems to be the goal of the voter. This is sometimes used in instances such as when a ballot is not entirely filled in, making it difficult for machines to count the vote.
Voter Intimidation:
This occurs when someone or a group of people attempts to force others to vote in a specific way or stops them from voting altogether. This has been known to happen via threats, poll taxes, and illegal tests to establish a citizen's eligibility to vote.
Voting Rights Act:
A 1965 federal law meant to protect the rights of African-Americans to vote. Previously, many Southern states used literacy tests and other means to suppress minority voting.
Voting Rights Restoration:
A system intended to let those with criminal convictions regain their right to vote once they have served their jail time, probation, or parole.
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