Glossary of Terms

The Glossary of Terms is an organized list of terms commonly used to talk about election results and races, voting methods, and FairVote's electoral reforms among others.

 

Principles of Democracy

Proportional Representation Fair Representation
Descriptive Representation Substantive Representation
Virtual Representation Actual Representation
Majority Winner Plurality Winner
Winner-Take-All  

 

Election Terms

Spoiler Effect Vote Splitting
Wasted Votes Bullet Voting
Strategic Voting Sincere Voting

 

Election Administration Terms

Voting System Voting Method
Ballot Image Data Direct Recording Electronic Voting Machine (DRE)
Cast Vote Record (CVR) Optical Scan
Spoiled Ballot Invalid Votes
Residual Votes Overvote
Undervote  

 

Ranked Choice Voting Terms

Active Ballot Inactive Ballot
Active Candidate Inactive Candidate
Ranking Round
Duplicate Ranking Skipped Ranking
Threshold Surplus Votes

 

Voting Methods

Approval Voting Block Voting
Borda Count Bucklin Voting
Closed List Proportional Representation Condorcet Voting
Contingent Voting Cumulative Voting
Free List Proportional Representation Fusion Voting
Limited Voting List Proportional Representation
Mixed-Member Proportional Representation (MMP) Numbered Posts
Open List Proportional Representation Parallel Voting Method
Score Voting Single Choice Plurality Voting
Preferential Block Voting Ranked Choice Voting (RCV)
Semi-Proportional Voting Methods Single Transferable Vote (STV)
Single Non-Transferable Vote (SNTV) STAR Voting
Two-Round System  

 

Primary Election Methods

Open Primary Closed Primary
Semi-Closed Primary Caucus
Blanket Primary Louisiana Primary
Top-Two Primary  

 

Terms Specific to Individual Voting Methods

Droop Quota Hare Quota
D'hondt Formula Random Method for Reallocation
Meeks Method for Reallocation Gregory Method for Reallocation
Compensatory Seats Condorcet Winner

 

Evaluative Criteria

Arrow's Impossibility Theorem Non-Dictatorship
Unrestricted Domain Pareto Efficiency
Social Ordering Independence of Irrelevant Alternatives
Bayesian Regret Condorcet Criterion
Favorite Betrayal Criterion Independence of Clones Criterion
Later-No-Harm Criterion Majority Criterion
Monotonicity Criterion  

 

Electoral College Terms

Elector Faithless Elector
National Popular Vote National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC)
Safe State Swing State
   

 

Districting Terms

District At Large
District Magnitude Single-Winner District
Multi-Winner District Community of Interest
Compactness Competitiveness
Contiguity Cracking
Packing Gerrymandering
One Person, One Vote  

 

Voting Rights Terms

Candidate of Choice Racially Polarized Voting
Voting Rights Act (VRA) Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA)

 

 

 

Active Ballot: A ballot which counts toward an active candidate in the current round of counting. Compare to Inactive Ballot.

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Active Candidate: A candidate who has not been eliminated during a round-by-round instant runoff count. In a count which lasts multiple rounds, the number of active candidates will decrease with each round. Also known as Continuing Candidate. Compare to Inactive Candidate.

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Actual Representation: The idea that constituents have voted for the officials who represent them. Compare to Virtual Representation.

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Approval Voting: A voting method in which voters can vote for, or approve of, as many candidates as they wish. Each candidate approved receives one vote and the candidate with the most votes wins. The winner need not garner a majority of the votes.

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Arrow's Impossibility Theorem: An economic theorem showing that there is no method that can convert the ranked preferences of individuals into a community-wide ranking while also meeting a specified set of conditions. The conditions are Non-Dictatorship, Pareto Efficiency, Independence of Irrelevant Alternatives, Social Ordering, and Unrestricted Domain.

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At Large: A type of electoral jurisdiction where representatives are elected from the whole political region, such as a whole city, county, state, or nation.

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Ballot Image Data: An electronically produced record of all votes cast by a single voter.

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Bayesian Regret: The average difference in social utility between the chosen candidate and the best candidate.

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Blanket Primary: A blanket primary is a primary election which includes all candidates for an office, regardless of respective political party. Each voter votes for one candidate. The single candidate with the most votes from each political party advances to the general election. Also known as a Jungle Primary.

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Block Voting: A Winner-Take-All voting method used in Multi-Winner Districts in which electors have as many votes as there are candidates to be elected. Voting can be either candidate-centered or party-centered. Counting is identical to a plurality system, with the candidates with the highest vote totals winning the seats. Also known as Bloc Voting, Multi-Winner Plurality, and sometimes referred to as At-Large Voting, typically in VRA lawsuits.

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Borda Count: A voting method in which voters rank candidates in order of choice for Single-Winner races. Voters rank candidates and the rankings are converted into points. Candidates receive the most points for being ranked first, fewer points for being ranked second, and so on, with the specific point values varying in different implementations. For example, in an election with five candidates, a first ranked candidate might receive five points, a second ranked office seeker four and so on. The candidate with the most points wins.

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Bucklin Voting: A voting method in which voters rank candidates in order of choice for Single-Winner races. If no candidate earns a majority of first choices, all second choices are added to all first choices. Unlike Ranked Choice Voting--in which every voter has one choice in each round, with their votes only transferring in the case of their preferred candidate’s elimination--under Bucklin voting, if there is no majority in the first round, a ballot can be simultaneously counted for the voter’s first, second, etc. choices until a candidate achieves a majority.

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Bullet Voting: A vote in which the voter has selected only one candidate, despite the option to indicate a preference for more than one candidate. Voters may bullet vote strategically (in block voting systems), in a misguided attempt to vote strategically (in the case of Ranked Choice Voting) or because the voter lacks the desire to evaluate more than one candidate on the ballot.

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Candidate of Choice: The candidate favored by a like-minded group of racial minority voters in a district. The Voting Rights Act requires that certain minority groups be given enough numbers in a district so that the minority group has the ability to elect their own candidate of choice without being continually outvoted by racial/ethnic majorities, provided such a group would otherwise have their ability to elect a candidate diluted by a Winner-Take-All election method or by an unfair districting plan.

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Cast Vote Record (CVR): A record of the contest selections produced by a single voter. The term Cast Vote Record or CVR is sometimes also used to refer to a compilation of all individual voters' selections.

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Caucus: A caucus is a meeting of supporters or members of a specific political party or movement. Some states use in-person caucuses to allocate delegates for presidential elections, rather than party primaries. The word caucus can also sometimes refer to a group of like-minded people, such as the Congressional Black Caucus.

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Closed List Proportional Representation: A form of List Proportional Representation in which electors vote for a political party, and seats are awarded to individuals based exclusively on the list provided by the political party.

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Closed Primary: A is a primary election only available to voters registered with a particular political party. In jurisdictions with closed primaries, independent or unaffiliated voters are excluded from participating in the party nomination contests. Compare to Open Primary and Semi-Closed Primary.

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Community of Interest: A group of residents who have common political interests that do not necessarily coincide with the boundaries of a political subdivision.

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Compactness: Minimizing the distance between all parts of a district. Examples of compact shapes include a circle, square or hexagon. Compactness can be measured in different ways, including area dispersion or perimeter. 

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Compensatory Seats: The party list seats in a Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP) system awarded to parties based on their proportion of the national vote. These seats are designed to correct the often disproportionate results of plurality elections.

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Competitiveness: A measure of the partisan balance in a district. A highly competitive district would have a relatively even partisan balance, making competition between the two major parties more intense. When used as a criterion in districting, it typically seeks to avoid the creation of Safe Districts for a particular party. 

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Condorcet Criterion: One of the criteria used to evaluate voting methods. The Condorcet criterion is satisfied if, when there exists a candidate who would defeat every other candidate in a head-to-head election, that candidate always wins. Such a candidate is known as a Concordet Winner.

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Condorcet Voting: An election method in which voters rank candidates in order of choice, and that elects the candidate who wins every pairing of head-to-head (or "pairwise") elections against each of the other candidates, if such a candidate exists. A candidate with this property is known as the Condorcet Winner. If no Condorcet winner exists, then some back-up procedure is used to identify a winner.

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Condorcet Winner: The candidate who would defeat every other candidate in a head-to-head or pairwise election.

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Contiguity: A measure of whether a district is within one continuous boundary and whose parts all touch one another. Contiguity is the most common requirement for districting and is the norm everywhere, but some districts stretch the limits of this requirement by connecting different landmasses through water or having two parts of a district intersect at a single point which takes up no area.

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Contingent Voting: A voting method in which voters rank candidates in order of choice for Single-Winner races. Contingent voting is similar to Ranked Choice Voting but the count is limited to two rounds. If there is no majority winner in the first round, the top two vote-getters advance to a final round, rather than a series of one-by-one elimination rounds. Also known as Supplementary Voting.

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Cracking: The practice of spreading voters of a particular type among multiple districts in order to deny them a sufficiently large voting bloc in any particular district.

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Cumulative Voting: A Semi-Proportional voting method used in Multi-Winner elections. Voters have a number of votes equal to the number of seats to be filled and may allocate their votes among the candidates in any way they see fit, including giving multiple votes to a single candidate or spreading their votes among multiple candidates. Cumulative Voting is used in some U.S. jurisdictions, imposed as a result of Voting Rights Act (VRA) lawsuits.

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D'hondt Formula: A “highest average” method used to award seats in a List Proportional Representation system. The available seats are awarded one at a time to the party with the largest average number of votes as determined by dividing the number of votes the party won by the number of seats the party has been awarded plus one. Each time a party wins a seat, the divisor for that party increases by one, which thus reduces its chances of winning the next seat. The first seat is awarded to the party with the largest absolute number of votes, since, no seats having been allocated, the average vote total as determined by the formula will be largest for this party. Also known as the Jefferson Method.

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Descriptive Representation: The idea that a body of elected representatives should reflect the descriptive identities, such as such as race, ethnicity, age, gender, and so on, of the populations they represent. Compare with Substantive Representation.

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Direct Recording Electronic Voting Machine (DRE): A voting device in which votes are cast and stored entirely electronically. 

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District: The geographical regions into which a city, state, or country is divided for election purposes. Single-Winner Districts elect one member of the legislature whereas Multi-Winner Districts elect two or more.

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District Magnitude: The number of candidates to be elected in each district. Single-Winner Districts elect one member of the legislature whereas Multi-Winner Districts elect two or more.

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Droop Quota: The threshold of votes required to win one seat under certain forms of Proportional Representation, including most implementations of the Single Transferable Vote (STV). The formula for the threshold is the sum of one and the quotient of the total number of votes cast and the sum of one and the number of seats to be elected. For one to be elected, the threshold is 50% + 1; for two it is 33.3% + 1; for three it is 25% + 1; and so on.

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Duplicate Ranking: An instance in which a voter assigns multiple rankings to a single candidate in a ranked voting method. For example, a ballot on which the same candidate is ranked as both first and second choice contains a duplicate ranking. 

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Election Audits: A review conducted after polls close for the purpose of determining whether the votes were counted accurately (a results audit) or whether proper procedures were followed (a process audit), or both. One type of audit is a risk-limiting audit (RLA) in which a portion of ballots are manually checked against official election results to determine whether ballots were tallied correctly. Another type of audit is a Bayesian audit which uses Bayesian principles to estimate the probability that the election outcome is correct.

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Elector: A member of the electoral college. Each presidential candidate chooses a slate of electors in each state. When voters vote in the presidential election, they are choosing which electors will vote for president and vice president in their state. If selected, the electors cast a vote for president and a vote for vice president in their state in December.

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Evaluative Criteria: A voting method criterion refers to whether a voting method can behave in a certain way. Evaluative criteria are used as one way to compare various voting methods.

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Fair Representation: The principle that a legislature should reflect all of the voters who elect them. Like-minded voters should be able to elect representatives in proportion to their number. Fair Representation voting methods include Proportional Representation methods as well as Semi-Proportional Representation methods such as Cumulative Voting and Limited Voting. Compare with Winner-Take-All

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Faithless Elector: An elector who does not vote for their pledged candidate.

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Favorite Betrayal Criterion: One of the criteria used to evaluate voting methods. The favorite betrayal criterion is satisfied if there is no situation in which a voter could obtain a more preferred outcome by not voting for their sincere favorite as their top choice.

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Free List Proportional Representation: A form of List Proportional Representation similar to Open List PR, but instead of having just one vote for one candidate in a list, a voter has as many votes as there are seats to be filled to distribute among candidates as they see fit, including candidates from different lists. In this way, it is similar to Cumulative Voting. Also known as Panachage. 

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Fusion Voting: Any voting method in which more than one political party can nominate a common candidate. In "aggregated" fusion, each candidate appears on the ballot with all nominating parties listed. In "disaggregated" fusion, each political party's list of nominees appears on its own line, and candidates nominated by multiple parties will appear on multiple party lines.

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Gerrymandering: The manipulation of district boundary lines in order to advantage or disadvantage a candidate or political group. Gerrymandering can be used to create a district that is favorable to an incumbent, advantage a party or political group to receive more seats than its proportion of the vote, or to conversely disenfranchise a group or party by weakening or dividing that subset of the electorate. Partisan Gerrymandering and Racial Gerrymandering are two specific types of gerrymandering.

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Gregory Method for Reallocation: A method of Surplus Vote Transfer under the Single-Transferable Vote (STV) in which ballots are transferred fractionally. When a candidate wins a seat, votes for that candidate are re-weighted, multiplying their current weight by the quotient of their surplus vote divided by their total vote. The voting method using Gregory reallocation is known as the Inclusive Weighted Gregory Method. 

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Hare Quota: The threshold of votes required to win one seat under certain forms of Proportional Representation. The quota is ascertained by dividing the total vote by the number of seats. Compare to Droop Quota which requires the number of votes to be divided by the number of seats plus one. The Hare quota tends to exaggerate the representation of smaller blocs of voters, even sometimes resulting in a minority voting bloc winning a majority of seats, and for that reason it has largely been displaced by other thresholds.

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Inactive Ballot: A ballot which does not count toward an Active Candidate in the current round of counting. Ballots become inactive if all validly ranked candidates have become inactive during the count. This can happen due to a voter's choice not to rank all candidates, a limit on the number of rankings imposed by a jurisdiction, or an error which disqualifies the ballot. Also known as an exhausted ballot. Compare to Active Ballot.

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Inactive Candidate: A candidate who has been eliminated during the round-by-round instant runoff count. Compare to Active Candidate.

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Independence of Clones Criterion: One of the criteria used to evaluate voting methods. The independence of clones criterion is satisfied if an otherwise winning candidate is not caused to lose by introducing an identical candidate.

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Independence of Irrelevant Alternatives Criterion: One of the conditions included in Arrow's Impossibility Theorem. The independence of irrelevant alternatives criterion is satisfied if adding an additional non-winning candidate to a contest can never change the winner.

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Invalid Votes: Cast ballots that are unable to be included in the vote total due to accidental or deliberate errors on the ballot.

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Later-No-Harm Criterion: One of the criteria used to evaluate voting methods. The later-no-harm criterion is satisfied if expressing support for a second or later choice candidate cannot cause a more favored candidate to lose.

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Limited Voting: A Semi-Proportional voting method used in Multi-Winner elections. Voters have fewer votes than the number of seats to be filled, but sometimes more than one vote. Counting is identical to a plurality election, with the candidates with the highest vote totals winning the seats. When voters have only one vote, it is also known as the Single Vote method or the Single Non-Transferable Vote (SNTV).

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List Proportional Representation: A form of Proportional Representation used in Multi-Winner elections. Each party submits lists of candidates to be elected and voters vote for the party. Seats are allocated to each party in proportion to the share received in the jurisdiction or district. Party lists of candidates can be Open, Closed, or Free. List proportional representation is also known as Party List Proportional, List Systems, or List PR.

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Louisiana Primary: The common term for the Louisiana general election for local, state, and congressional offices. It is similar to a Top-Two Primary, with candidates competing regardless of political party, but is a general election rather than a primary election. The candidate who receives a majority is elected. If no candidate wins a majority, a runoff election is held between the top two candidates. This system is also used for U.S. Senate special elections in Mississippi and Texas, and special elections for partisan offices in Georgia. Also known as the Cajun primary and jungle primary.

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Majority Criterion: One of the criteria used to evaluate voting methods. The majority criterion is satisfied if, when there exists a candidate who is the preferred by more than half of voters, that candidate always wins. 

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Majority Winner: A term for a candidate who earns more than 50% of votes. Voting methods which require majority support mean that a candidate must earn the votes of greater than 50% of voters in order to win. Compare with Plurality Winner.

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Meeks Method for Reallocation: A method of Surplus Vote Transfer under the Single-Transferable Vote (STV) in which ballots are transferred fractionally. The Meeks method is similar to the Gregory Method except that it uses iterative approximation to re-calculate weightings after each round. This accounts for ballots which are partially transferred to a candidate who has already won a seat in a previous round. 

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Mixed-Member Proportional Representation (MMP): A hybrid electoral method in which some legislative seats are elected from Single-Winner Districts using Winner-Take-All rules and additional "compensatory" seats are awarded to underrepresented parties in order to achieve Proportional Representation overall. MMP combines geographic representation with proportional representation of ideological interests. The "Districts Plus" model in FairVote's reform library is a form of MMP.

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Monotonicity Criterion: One of the criteria used to evaluate voting methods. The monotonicity criterion is satisfied if (1) giving greater support for a candidate can never hurt that candidate, and (2) giving less support for a candidate can never benefit that candidate.

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Multi-Winner District: A district from which more than one member is elected. Also known as a multi-member district or a multi-seat district. Compare to Single-Winner District.

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National Popular Vote: The total of all votes cast for president across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and sometimes also including other American territories. The national popular vote outcome does not determine who is elected president, and the winner of the national popular vote has not been elected president on five separate occasions.

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National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC): An agreement which stipulates that all participating states will award their electoral votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the National Popular Vote in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The compact is set to go into effect only after states controlling a majority of electoral votes have enacted it. As of 2020, the NPVIC has not gone into effect.

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Non-Dictatorship: One of the conditions included in Arrow's Impossibility Theorem. The voting method must consider the wishes of multiple voters.

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Numbered Posts: A method of conducting Multi-Winner elections by dividing them into separate Single-Winner elections, all elected At-Large. Some numbered posts require that the candidate be a resident of a particular geographical area.

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One Person, One Vote: A constitutional principle based on Article I, Section 2 and the 14th Amendment which holds that each voter should have the same effective voting power as each other voter. If a jurisdiction uses districts, those districts must have an approximately equal number of persons per representative elected in each district. 

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Open List Proportional Representation: A form of List Proportional Representation in which electors can express a preference for the order of candidates within a party list, as well as voting for the party. The "Open Ticket" model in FairVote's reform library is a form of open list PR.

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Open Primary:A primary election in which a separate primary election is held for each political party, but voters may participate in any such primary regardless of their party registration.

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Optical Scan: An electronic voting system which reads marked paper ballots and tabulates the results.

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Overvote:A vote in which the voter has indicated a preference for more than the maximum number of selections allowed. Under Ranked Choice Voting, this means the voter has ranked more than one candidate at the same ranking order.

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Packing: The practice of concentrating voters of one type into a single electoral district in order to reduce their influence in other districts.

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Parallel Voting Method: A hybrid electoral method in which some legislative seats are elected from Single-Winner Districts using Winner-Take-All rules and the remainder from List Proportional Representation methods. Unlike Mixed-Member Proportional, proportionality is confined to the party lists seats, rather than applying to the legislative chamber overall.

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Pareto Efficiency: One of the conditions included in Arrow's Impossibility Theorem. If every individual prefers a certain option to another, then so must the resulting societal preference order.

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Plurality Winner: A term for the candidate who got more votes than any other competing candidates. In elections with more than two candidates, a plurality winner may have less than 50% of the votes. In the Single-Choice Plurality voting method, such a candidate is the winner. Compare with Majority Winner.

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Preferential Block Voting: A ranked voting method for Multi-Winner elections. Votes are counted during a series of single-winner ranked choice voting contests. After one seat has been awarded, the elected candidate is removed from consideration, all ballots are returned to full value, and a new single-winner ranked choice voting count occurs. This process repeats until all seats have been filled. Unlike the Single Transferable Vote (STV), preferential block voting is not a method for obtaining Proportional Representation. Also known as Sequential Ranked Choice Voting, Majoritarian Ranked Choice Voting, or the Utah Method. 

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Proportional Representation: A group of voting methods used in many democracies whose major goal is to ensure that parties and political groups are allocated seats in legislative bodies in proportion to their share of the vote. For example, a party receiving 30% of the national vote should receive approximately 30% of the seats in the national legislature.

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Racially Polarized Voting: Circumstances where the voting preferences of a particular racial or ethnic group consistently vary from the preferences of other groups. If racially polarized voting can be demonstrated in a jurisdiction, and if the relevant minority group is sufficiently large and geographically cohesive enough to elect a candidate of choice in a Single-Winner District, it may be illegal for the jurisdiction to dilute that group's ability to elect a Candidate of Choice by using a Winner-Take-All At-Large election method or an unfair districting plan.

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Random Method for Reallocation: A method of Surplus Vote Transfer in which ballots to be transferred are chosen randomly. Compare to fractional methods of transfer such as the Gregory Method and the Meeks Method

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Ranked Choice Voting: A voting method in which voters rank candidates in order of preference. If a candidate has more than half of the vote based on first-choices, that candidate wins. If no candidate has more than half of those votes, then the candidate with the fewest first choices is eliminated. The voters who selected the defeated candidate as a first choice will then have their votes added to the totals of their next choice. This process continues until a candidate has more than half of the active votes. The candidate with a majority among the active candidates is declared the winner.

Single-winner RCV is also known as instant runoff voting, the alternative vote, and preferential majority voting.

Multi-winner RCV is also known as single transferable vote (STV), proportional representation, the Hare system, choice voting, bottoms-up ranked choice voting, "vote for w" ranked choice voting, and preferential block voting.

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Ranking: The number assigned by a voter to a candidate to express the voter’s choice for that candidate. The number “1” is the highest ranking order, followed by “2” and then “3” and so on.

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Reserved Seats: Seats in which some criterion such as religion, ethnicity, language, gender etc. is a requirement for election. Gender Quotas are a type of reserved seats used around the world to ensure legislative representation for women. Reserved seats are sometimes known as set-aside seats. 

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Residual Votes: Total number of votes that cannot be counted for a specific contest. There are multiple types of residual votes, including Overvotes and Undervotes.

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Round: An instance of the sequence of voting tabulation in a Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) election.

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Safe State: A state in which voters are known to favor one political party by such a margin that it can be reliably predicted in advance of the presidential election which slate of Electors will be chosen. Compare to Swing State.

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Score Voting: A voting method for Single-Winner Districts in which voters award each candidate a “score.” Voters’ scores are then either summed or averaged together for each candidate. The candidate with the highest total score wins. Also known as range voting.

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Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA): A part of the Voting Rights Act which prohibits states and other jurisdictions from maintaining voting laws, standards or practices that abridge the right to vote on the basis of race or language group. When a law has the effect of denying the right to vote or the opportunity to elect candidates to a group on the basis of their race, ethnicity, or language minority status, then a lawsuit may be brought under Section 2 to change that law. Voting methods which have been adopted in response to VRA lawsuits include Single Transferable Vote (STV), Cumulative Voting, and Limited Voting.

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Semi-Closed Primary: A primary election in which a separate primary election is held for each political party, and the primary is open either to voters registered with that party or to unaffiliated voters, who may choose which semi-closed primary they participate in.

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Semi-Proportional Voting Methods: Electoral systems that are not Winner-Take-All, but do not guarantee Proportional Representation. Semi-proportional systems generally produce electoral results that are between the proportionality of full representation systems and the disproportionality of winner-take-all systems. These methods include Cumulative Voting and Limited Voting.

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Sincere Voting: Votes cast by voters for their most preferred candidate. Compare with Strategic Voting in which voters select a candidate other than their first preference in order to best pursue their political interests.

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Single Choice Plurality Voting: A voting method used in Single-Winner elections in which the candidate with the most votes wins, without necessarily receiving a majority of votes. It is the most common system used in countries descended from the British and French Empires, including the United States and Canada. Certain jurisdictions couple the use of single-choice plurality with runoff elections if no winner attains the majority of votes in the initial election, known as a Two Round System. Also known as plurality voting and first-past-the-post (FPTP). 

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Single Non-Transferable Vote (SNTV): A Multi-Winner voting method in which each voter may vote for one candidate and the candidate with the highest number of votes is the winner. It is the multi-winner form of Single-Choice Plurality Voting.

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Single Transferable Vote (STV):A Multi-Winner ranked choice voting method whose goal is Proportional Representation. Candidates who meet the threshold of votes to be elected see their surplus votes transferred to other candidates. For information on how votes are reallocated, see Random Reallocation, Gregory Method for Reallocation, and Meeks Method for Reallocation. Single transferable vote is also known as STV, the Hare system, and choice voting. 

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Single-Winner District: A district from which only one member is elected. Also known as a single-member district or a single-seat district. Compare to Multi-Winner District.

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Skipped Ranking: In a ranked voting method, an instance in which a voter has left at least one ranking order unassigned but ranks a candidate at a subsequent ranking order. For example, a ballot which contained a valid ranking for first choice and for third choice, but not for second choice, is a ballot containing a skipped ranking.

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Social Ordering: One of the conditions included in Arrow's Impossibility Theorem. Each individual should be able to order the choices in any way and indicate ties.

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Spoiled Ballot: A ballot that has been marked or altered in a way that prevents it from being counted.

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Spoiler Effect: A phenomenon in Single-Choice Plurality elections in which a head-to-head race between two viable candidates would lead to one candidate winning, but in which the presence of a third, non-viable candidate divides that winner's support, causing the other viable candidate to win with a plurality vote instead. A general term for the phenomenon when two similar candidates divide their base of support is Vote Splitting.

 

STAR Voting: A form of Score Voting which relies on two rounds of tallies to determine a winner. Instead of electing the candidate with the highest score, STAR voting first identifies the two candidates with the two highest scores. It then assigns each of those candidates one vote per ballot that scores them higher than the other, and the candidate with the greater number of votes in the second round wins the election. STAR stands for Score Then Automatic Runoff.

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Strategic Voting: Occurs when a voter votes for a candidate other than their preferred choice to prevent an unwanted outcome. For example, in a Single-Choice Plurality election, there is often a strong incentive for supporters of a minor party to throw their vote to a larger party with a greater chance of victory; this prevents a party or candidate the voter dislikes from winning. Compare with Sincere Voting.

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Substantive Representation: The tendency of elected legislators to advocate on behalf of the values and interests of certain groups. Compare with Descriptive Representation.

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Surplus Votes:The number of votes a candidate receives beyond the minimum needed in order to receive a seat in a Single Transferable Vote (STV) election. These extra votes are transfered to voters' next choice candidates. Surplus votes can be transferred as whole ballots using Random Reallocation or using fractional transfer methods such as the Gregory Method for Reallocation or the Meeks Method for Reallocation.

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Swing State:A state for whom the outcome of a presidential election is difficult to predict because the margin is expected to be narrow. Swing states are sometimes known as "purple states" because they are not uniformly red (Republican) or blue (Democractic). Compare with Safe State.

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Threshold: The minimum number of votes needed to win a seat under various Multi-Winner voting methods. In Single Transferable Vote (STV), the threshold is the fewest votes that only the winning number of candidates can obtain, typically calculated using the Droop Quota. In List Proportional Representation, the threshold is the minimum needed for a party to win any seats and is known as the threshold of exclusion. 

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Top-Two Primary: A top-two primary is a primary election in which all candidates appear on the same ballot and the top two vote-getters advance to the general election, regardless of their political party. Consequently, it is possible for two candidates from the same political party to win in a top-two primary and compete against each other in the general election.

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Two-Round Sytem: A number of Winner-Take-All methods in which a second election is held following a preliminary or primary election. In some cases, the second election is contingent upon no candidate receiving a majority in the first election. In other cases, such as California's top-two primary system, the second election is held regardless of whether a candidate received a majority in the first election. Also known as runoff elections.

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Undervote: A vote in which the voter has selected fewer candidates than allowed or has skipped voting for the office entirely. Under Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), this term ordinarily means the voter has skipped voting for the office entirely, but it is sometimes also used to refer to an unused ranking on a ballot.

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Unrestricted Domain: One of the conditions included in Arrow's Impossibility Theorem. The voting method must account for all individual preferences. 

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Virtual Representation: The idea that constituents are represented by officials they did not vote for. For example, a Democratic voter in a safe Republican district is still virtually represented by Democrats elected elsewhere, even if they cannot vote for those Democrats. Compare to Actual Representation.

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Vote Splitting: A phenomenon in plurality elections in which candidates with similar characteristics divide their supporters between themselves, potentially preventing any of them from earning enough votes to win the election. Vote Splitting can lead to the Spoiler Effect.

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Voting Rights Act (VRA): A federal law protecting the right of voters to vote and their opportunity to elect candidates from discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, or language minority status.

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Voting System: Equipment, materials, and documentation used to conduct elections, including to capture votes, count votes, and generate reports. Some people refer to voting methods like ranked choice voting (RCV) as voting systems, but methods like RCV are better understood as voting methods or electoral systems. 

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Wasted Votes: A term used to describe votes that are not useful in the election of the winning candidate or party. There are two sources of wasted votes: votes cast for candidates who are not elected, and votes cast for elected candidates who earned more votes than they needed to win.

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Winner-Take-All: The principle that a legislature should reflect only a single group of voters, usually the majority group. Rather than like-minded voters being able to elect representatives in proportion to their number, one group of voters can elect all representatives while other groups elect none. Compare to Fair Representation.

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