absentee ballot - A ballot marked by a registered voter and mailed before the election date. These ballots are often used by voters who are out of town, overseas or work at a polling station on Election Day. Voters who are sick or disabled and cannot physically get to the polling station also use these ballots, as well as some senior citizens.

at large - Representing and/or voted on by the entire area (e.g. county, state, district). Examples:

In Otero County, we have three Commissioner districts. Candidates must live in the district they represent, but they are voted on "at large" (meaning that the entire county votes on the candidates for each district).

In Colorado, the CU Board of Regents has one member from each Congressional District. These members must reside in, and are voted on by the citizens of, that Congressional District. There are also two "at large" members. These two members may live in any part of Colorado and are also voted on by all Colorado voters.

ballot initiative - A piece of legislation or constitutional amendment appearing on a ballot for citizens to vote on.

bandwagon - A popular trend or issue that more and more politicians adopt to gain support from voters.

bipartisanship - Lawmakers from two different political parties working together to pass legislation or to meet a mutual goal. It usually refers to Republicans and Democrats.

blanket primary - A primary in which all candidates from both parties are included on the same ballot. This is different from single party primaries when Democratic and Republican nominees use separate ballots.

caucus - In the context of an election, a caucus occurs when party members hold a meeting to elect delegates to a state or national nominating convention. In the context of Congress, it is an informal gathering where lawmakers meet to discuss issues of mutual concern and possibly plan policy for caucus members.

closed primary - Primary election in which only voters registered with a particular political party may vote in that party's primary. For example, in a closed Republican primary, only registered Republicans may vote.

constituent - A citizen who resides in a particular congressional district.

debate - A controlled dialogue that involves two or more candidates arguing their side of an issue. During campaign season, presidential and vice-presidential debates are usually televised programs in which candidates answer questions posed by the media or audience members. Debates are not limited to prominent political offices and can take place between elected officials at all levels of government

Electoral College - Electors chosen from each state to elect the president and vice president of the United States, conceived because the Founding Fathers worried voters were not informed enough to select a president. Today, voters instead choose an elector from a particular party and that person votes for his or her party's candidate. This practice was scrutinized in 2000 when then Vice President Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the presidential election to George W. Bush in the electoral contest.

electronic voting - The process of voting, or counting votes, using electronic devices. In the United States, this form of voting has become controversial because many citizens believe it will lead to electoral fraud.

ex-officio - Any chairman or top minority member of a committee is granted membership to its subcommittees. Such a status is called "ex-officio," meaning "by virtue of one's office."

exit polls - Polls taken as voters exit a polling station. They are often used to predict which candidate has won before votes are officially counted.

front-loading - States may seek an early date for their primary elections. This practice has been criticized for serving the front-runner who often has the most resources to get a message out to more people more quickly than opponents.

gerrymandering - The altering of electoral districts, in order to provide one party an electoral advantage over another. The word combines the name "Gerry" and the word "salamander." In 1812, then Governor of Massachusetts Elbridge Gerry approved a law to the disadvantage of Jeffersonian Democrats, his electoral opponents. The word "salamander" was used to describe the appearance of that electoral district.

grass roots - Political involvement that stems from members of a community rather than from established political organizations.

incumbent - The person currently holding a particular elected office.

mail in ballot - (See absentee ballot.)

national party convention - In the summer preceding a presidential election, each major party officially introduces its presidential and vice presidential candidate, along with its platform, before a national audience.

nomination and nominee - Nomination: The act of officially naming a candidate for a political office. Nominee: A candidate for political office.

nonpartisan - When a person or a group is not involved or influenced by a political party. In a nonpartisan election, candidates on the ballot are listed without party affiliation.

open primary - A primary election allowing voters to select candidates without declaring party affiliation.

partisan - A person or an organization that strongly supports a particular political party.

plurality - The number of votes a winning candidate receives over his next closest opponent. No candidate has a majority of votes in this case.

poll - To take a poll: A survey taken from a sample group for the purpose of assessing opinions on a particular subject. To go to a poll: The place where ballots for an election are cast and collected.

platform - A statement of a party's principles and goals that usually is offered at a national party convention.

precinct - A district created for election purposes that contains at least one polling station. This is the smallest type of unit in the electoral system. A precinct has between 200 and 1,000 voters.

primary - An election in which voters select candidates from political parties to compete against each other in the general election.

proportional representation - A voting system where the minority parties are given representation proportional to their share of the popular vote.

protest vote - A vote cast for a third-party candidate that is not intended to elect the candidate but meant to express dissatisfaction with the candidates of the major political parties.

push polling - A polling technique that aims to gauge public opinion on possible campaign themes by posing specific questions about an issue or candidate. This technique is sometimes used by an individual or organization to influence or alter the view of respondents in order to "push" voters away from an opponent.

rear-loading - An intense effort of a campaign to raise awareness of a candidate in the days just preceding the general election.

single-member district - The most common electoral system in the United States used to elect House members and many state and local officials. Each district votes on one person to represent them in a legislative body. In a plurality system, a winner must earn more votes than his opponent - even if his total is fewer than 50 percent. In a majority system, there are run-offs to ensure a lead candidate receives the majority of voters' support.

straight ticket - A ballot on which all of the candidates nominated are of the same party. When this type of ballot appears, voters may check a single box to choose all candidates running under the same party.

straw poll - An unofficial vote that is used to gauge the possible outcome of an official vote in an upcoming election. If enough randomly selected voters participate in a straw poll it can be one effective measure of voter sentiment. Some straw polls, however, allow candidates to manipulate the outcome by offering food, transportation, entertainment and other inducements to voters.

straw poll or straw vote - An unofficial poll or vote by a sample group taken to assess opinion on a particular issue or candidate running for office.

stump - Used as a verb, the term refers to the act of campaigning.

HISTORY: According to William Safire's Political Dictionary, "to achieve a dominating posture, a frontier speechmaker would use a convenient tree stump as a platform." Safire also noted that the first reference was in 1716 and it was part of American political vocabulary by 1838.

Super Tuesday - A phrase that refers to the Tuesday in a presidential election year, most often in early March, when several states hold primary elections.

HISTORY: The term stems from 1988 when a group of Southern states held the first regional group of primaries on Tuesday, March 9, in hopes of being able to impact the nomination process over early votes coming from the New Hampshire primary, for example.

superdelegate - A term used to refer to a class of delegates to the Democratic Party's national presidential nominating convention. Superdelegates are not elected through the normal primary and caucus process. They are designated by party rules and include high elected officials (members of Congress and governors), party committee members and some former office holders. Unlike delegates awarded through primaries and caucuses, superdelegates are not required to stay pledged to a specific candidate. In 2008, the Democratic Party has designated 796 superdelegates. An estimated 4,049 total delegates will vote at the national convention, including superdelegates. A candidate needs a total of 2,025 delegate votes to win the party's nomination.

swing voter - A voter who is not extremely loyal to a particular party and may cross party lines to select a candidate.

ticket splitting - The act of voting for candidates of different political parties in the same election.

town hall - An informal meeting of an officeholder or candidate with local residents in which the audience may ask questions about any topic of concern or interest.

voter turnout - The aggregate amount of ballots cast by eligible voters in any given election.

Voting Rights Act of 1965 - The National Voting Rights Act of 1965 declared that potential voters did not need to take literacy tests to qualify for voter registration. It also gave the Department of Justice oversight of registration and required the department's consent for changes in voting law in districts where half the population was registered to vote in 1964. Although it was signed in 1965, President George W. Bush granted a 25-year extension of the bill on July 27, 2006.

wedge issue - A controversial political issue that is often used by one group to divide an opposing political group. The first group hopes that by persuading voters to see the divisiveness among its opponent, voters will agree with its own stance.