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US Elections 101: Here are 20 things you should know


Absentee Ballot/ Absentee Voting

Absentee Voting happens when a voter is unable to go to the polling booth to cast their ballot. Typically, absentee voting happens by mail. Usually, states require voters to provide a valid excuse to vote absentee, like serving or living overseas.

Ballot initiative

A ballot initiative is when a petition, signed by a minimum number of voters, can bring about a public vote on a proposed statute or constitutional amendment on a local level.

Battleground state/Purple state/Swing state

Large states, which have an electorate split relatively evenly between Democrats and Republicans, is called a Swing state. The outcome of voting in these states is difficult to predict. Swing states are also called battleground states or purple states. Traditional battleground states include Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Bellwether state

A state that tends to vote for the winning candidate. Ohio is a prime example of a bellwether state. It has not backed a losing presidential candidate since 1960. In fact, no Republican has ever won the White House without the state. Demographically, bellwether states are considered as microcosms of the country.

Blue state

States where majority voters tend to vote for the Democratic Party.


A meeting of registered party members to choose candidates for the party nomination in the Presidential race. Unlike in primaries, caucuses can take hours, as voters will gather to hear out supporters of various candidates, debate issues, and ultimately come to a conclusion about who will make the best presidential nominee. The most important party caucuses in recent years have been in Iowa.


Made up of two houses – the 435-member House of Representatives and the 100-member Senate, it is the legislative branch of the US government.


A meeting where Party delegates assemble to pick a presidential nominee.


People designated by the state to nominate a presidential candidate after a primary or caucus. States have different numbers of delegates depending on their size.

Election Day

National elections, including presidential elections, are held on the Tuesday after the first Monday of November. This year’s election will take place on November 8.

Electoral College

In the Electoral College system, each state gets a certain number of electors based on its population. More populous states have more electors. There are 538 electors in total. Each elector casts one electoral vote in the general election. The candidate that gets more than half (270) wins the election.


These are when prominent politicians or influential figures declare their support for a candidate. This helps candidates increase credibility and attract more media attention.

Grand Old Party (GOP)

The traditional nickname for the Republican Party. In Nixon’s 1964 presidential campaign, the GOP was used as the basis for the slogan the “Go-Party”, but by the 1970s it had become associated with the term Grand Old Party.

Mail-in Ballot

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many states have expanded the absentee ballot eligibility to include all voters. In states like California, Delaware and Illinois, ballots will automatically be mailed to every voter. Some officials have now begun to call this process “all-mail voting” or “universal vote by mail.”

Political Action Committee(PAC)

An organisation that raises money privately to influence elections or legislation, especially at the federal level. PACs frequently donate money to presidential campaigns. The amount for each donation is capped.


State-held elections to nominate delegates to the national convention. Voters cast their votes for a candidate on standard secret ballots. Depending on the state, delegates are either distributed in proportion to the number of votes each candidate gets (proportional primary), or all delegates are given to the candidate who gets majority votes (“winner take all” primary).

Red state

States where majority voters tend to vote for the Republican Party.

Super PAC

An independent PAC that can raise unlimited amounts of money. They are forbidden from being officially associated with a candidate’s campaign. Super PACs back specific candidates and are frequently run by allies.

Super Tuesday

The day in the campaign calendar, usually in February or early March of an election year, when a large number of states hold primary elections.


The “ticket” refers to the candidates running together. Candidates for the presidency and vice presidency run on the same “ticket”.

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