US elections What do these words mean?

Absentee voting

This is the method in which Americans living abroad can vote in primaries, caucuses and the general election. These votes usually take longer to count, but rarely change the outcome.

 Caucus

These are local meetings of registered party members where they discuss politics as well as local affairs. State branches of national parties arrange these meetings. Rules and methods for caucuses vary by state. Voting is counted either by paper ballots or a show of hands. These are also designed to allocate state delegates for each candidate for eventual nomination at convention; some are winner-take-all, some are proportional.

 Convention

The meeting of the entire Democrat or Republican Party at which a presidential nominee is chosen based on who has the most delegates’ support.

 Delegates

People designated by the state to nominate a presidential candidate for a specific party after a primary or caucus. States have different numbers of delegates depending on their size. There are pledged and unpledged delegates.

 Electoral college

In the presidential election between the two nominees, each state is allocated a certain number of votes based on population. For example, California has 55 electoral votes while Vermont has three. Each state is winner-take-all (except Maine and Nebraska), so whichever candidate gets more individual votes gets all the electoral votes of the state. Therefore, it is possible to win the majority of individual votes and lose the race, and vice versa. A candidate needs 270 electoral votes to win.

 Endorsements

These are when a prominent politician or influential figure declares his or her support for a candidate. For example, former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin endorsed Donald Trump, and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley endorsed Marco Rubio. These can help increase a candidate’s credibility and attract more media attention.

 Independent

Bernie Sanders has been in Congress since the 1990s, but not as a Democrat. Although he is vying for the Democratic nomination now, he has been one of the few registered Independents to serve in Congress. This means Sanders does not affiliate with either of the two major parties, although his ideology certainly leans more towards the Democrats.

 Pledged delegates

Delegates who must vote to nominate the person dictated to them by the people in a primary or caucus. In a winner-take-all primary or caucus, each delegate must vote to nominate the candidate who won the most votes in that state. In a proportional primary or caucus, the delegates’ votes are divided in line with the results of the primary/caucus.

 Primary

People vote by secret ballot, with the voting overseen by state governments. There are two types of primaries: closed elections, in which people can only vote for the party they are registered with, and open primaries, in which people can vote for any party they want, but can still only vote for one party. These elections are designed to allocate state delegates for each candidate for eventual nomination at the convention; some are winner-take-all, some are proportional.

 Proportional states

States in which delegates are allocated in proportion to how many votes each candidate received. There is usually a threshold of votes a candidate needs to reach to be eligible for any delegates. Examples of proportional states are Texas and Vermont.

 PAC

Stands for political action committee. An organisation that raises money privately to influence elections or legislation, especially at the federal level. PACs frequently donate money to presidential campaigns; there are limits to how much money can be included in each donation.

 Running mate

The person a presidential candidate chooses to be his or her vice president if elected. Always announced after a nomination so only the person who is actually running for president chooses. The vice president does not have much power, but is often used to push policy ideas.

 Special interest groups

These are groups invested in advancing a particular issue. An example is the Sierra Club, which campaigns for the protection of the environment. These groups often employ lobbyists, who try to persuade politicians to take up the organisation’s cause.

 Super Tuesday

One Tuesday in each election cycle on which a number of states hold their primaries/caucuses. This year it’s on March 1, and 11 states are holding primaries or caucuses for both parties and Alaska is holding a caucus just for Republicans. About 24 percent of Republican delegates and 21 percent of Democratic delegates are up for grabs this Super Tuesday.

 Super PAC

An independent PAC that can raise unlimited sums of money. They are forbidden from being officially associated with a campaign, but this rule is easy to get around. Super PACs back specific candidates and are frequently run by their allies.

 Swing states

It is easy to predict how many states will vote in the general election. For instance, New York’s electoral votes almost always go to the Democrat and Texas’ votes almost always go to the Republican. However, some states are more unpredictable. For instance, Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Colorado always get special attention on the night of the election since nobody knows where their votes will go until polling booths close. These five states count for 91 electoral votes, more than 30 percent of those needed to become president. There are a few more swing states, making it difficult to predict the winner in advance.

 Unpledged delegates

Delegates who can vote to nominate whichever candidate they want, regardless of primary/caucus results. Also called super delegates.

 Winner-take-all states

States in which each delegate supports the candidate who received the most votes. Examples of winner-take-all states are Florida and Ohio.

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