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U.S. Elections

U.S. Election Jargon explained


A caucus is a local meeting where registered members of a political party in a city, town or county gather to show support for a candidate. Caucuses, unlike conventions, involve many separate meetings held at the same time at multiple locations.
A political party determines its nominees for statewide or national offices by the combined recommendations of its state caucuses.
Both the Democratic and Republican parties have their own rules governing state caucuses. Those rules vary from state to state.

Electoral College

The Electoral College was established in 1787 as a compromise between election of the president by Congress and direct election by the people.
The number of electors varies by state. Each state is allocated a number of electors based on how many U.S. representatives it has — which is based on a population census conducted every 10 years — plus its two U.S. senators. In 2012, the populous state of California has 55 electors while much less populated states such as Alaska and Delaware each have three. The process for selecting electors also varies state by state. Generally, state political party leaders nominate electors at their state party conventions or the state party's central committee elects them.
After Americans cast their votes in the presidential election, electors in 50 state capitals and in Washington choose the next president. A majority of 270 electoral votes is required to elect the president and vice president. The electors nearly always vote the same way in December as the voters in their state did in November.

See also: What is the Electoral College?

General Election

In a general election, voters choose their candidate for federal, state and local offices. These candidates are either nominated by their political party, or they run as independents. If they are independent, it means they are not affiliated with a major political party, such as the Democratic or Republican party. Voters can also choose to write in the name of a candidate they support.
General elections are run by the states, but the date for the general election is set by federal law. It is always the Tuesday after the first Monday in November.
Measures such as proposed legislation, referendums, bond issues (borrowing money for public projects) and other government actions also may be placed on the ballot. Each state has its own rules about what can be placed on the ballot.

See also: Primary & General Elections - The U.S. Election Process

Political Action Committee (PAC)

A political action committee (PAC) is an organization that raises money for the campaigns of political candidates or causes it supports. It also raises money against political candidates or causes it opposes.
PACs are formed by business, labor or other special-interest groups. They are not officially supported by a candidate or political party. Such groups are prohibited from contributing their funds to the PACs they establish. However, employees or members of these groups may contribute.

Primary Election

A primary election is a contest in which a political party selects its candidates to run in the general election. The outcome is determined by the registered voters who cast their ballots at their local poll places.
For the presidential nomination only, voters select delegates to cast their ballots for a candidate at the party’s national convention. For all other primary races, voters vote directly for a candidate.
Some primaries are closed. This means they are restricted to voters who have registered their political party affiliations. In other words, only registered Republications will be allowed to vote in some primaries to select the Republican candidate for president. In open primaries, any registered voter is allowed to cast a ballot, regardless of party affiliation.
Like the general election, primaries are conducted by the states. Unlike the general election, states set the schedule for primaries.

Write-in Candidate

A write-in candidate’s name does not appear on the ballot in an election. Voters can vote for such a candidate by writing the person's name in a designated space on the ballot.


The act of connecting or associating with a person or organization.


The official list of candidates running for office.


A person who seeks or is nominated for an office.


A person authorized to act as a representative.

National Convention

A meeting held every four years by each of the major political parties to nominate the party’s official presidential candidate.


The act of submitting a name for candidacy.


The place where votes are cast and registered.


A popular vote on a proposed public measure or actual law.

U.S. Elections



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Source: U.S. State Department; magazineUSA.com
Last modified: 20121023
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