An official website of the United States government

A-Z to U.S. Elections
August 18, 2020

Here are some selected glossary and facts about the U.S. Presidential Elections, in alphabetical order:




An absentee voting ballot is filed by a voter who cannot be physically present at their designated polling place on Election Day.

Absentee ballots are often filed by people who are:

  • Living abroad
  • Serving in the military
  • Attending school in a different state from their legal state of residence
  • Have a disability that makes it difficult for them to vote in person.
  • Some places, like Oregon, vote exclusively by mail.

(Source: usa.gov)

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A list of candidates and proposed laws that voters mark to make choices.  A ballot may be made of paper and marked with a pen or hole punch, or it may be electronic, with voters marking their choices with the push of a button or by touch screen.

Because elections are managed locally in the United States, unlike in the Philippines where voting is centrally managed by COMELEC, ballots can look different depending on your locality.

(Sources: usa.govcomelec.gov.ph)

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What Happens at a National Political Convention?

Conventions finalize a party’s presidential and vice presidential nominees.

To become the presidential nominee, a candidate typically has to win a majority of delegates. This usually happens through the party’s primaries and caucuses.  This majority is then confirmed through a vote by the delegates at the national convention.  But if no candidate gets the majority of a party’s delegates during the primaries and caucuses, convention delegates choose the nominee.  This happens through multiple rounds of voting, which hasn’t occurred since 1952.

During conventions, candidates formally accept their party’s nomination in a speech where they lay out their vision for the future of the country.

(Sources: usa.govwashingtonpost.com)

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Someone chosen to represent their town or state at a national political convention.  A pledged delegate generally must support the candidate chosen by the voters in the district they represent.

(Source: usa.gov)

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The Electoral College is the process by which Americans elect the president and vice president.  The number of electors a state receives is equal to that state’s total number of U.S. senators and representatives.  In most states, the candidate who wins the most votes in the state receives all the electors for that state, and the candidate that receives the most electors overall wins the election.

Maine and Nebraska are the only two states which do not use a winner take all system.

The process of using electors comes from the Constitution.  It was a compromise between a popular vote by citizens and a vote by Congress.

(Sources: usa.govusa.gov, archives.gov)

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The Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) works to ensure Service members, their eligible family members, and overseas citizens are aware of their right to vote and have the tools and resources to successfully do so – from anywhere in the world.

(Source: fvap.gov)

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A final election for a political office with a limited list of candidates.  The candidates in the general election are those who won their party’s primary election, except in California, where the primary is non-partisan.  General elections happen at the local, state, and national level.

(Sources: usa.govsos.ca.gov)

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The Hatch Act restricts federal employee participation in certain partisan political activities.

U.S. federal government employees may not seek public office in partisan elections, use their official title or authority when engaging in political activity, solicit or receive contributions for partisan political candidates or groups, or engage in political activity while on duty.

(Source: osc.gov)

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The inauguration of the President of the United States occurs every four years on January 20 or 21 at the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, DC.  The president-elect recites the Presidential Oath of Office:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

(Source: usa.gov)

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John Adams, a remarkable political philosopher, served as the second President of the United States (1797-1801), after serving as the first Vice President under President George Washington.

(Source: whitehouse.gov)

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John F. Kennedy was the 35th President of the United States (1961-1963) and, at age 43, the youngest person elected to the office.  His inaugural address offered the memorable injunction: “Ask not what your country can do for you-ask what you can do for your country.”

He challenged the nation to put a man on the moon and created the Peace Corps.

(Source: whitehouse.gov)

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Throughout the United States, citizens for whom English is a second language may need language assistance when voting, such as having their ballot or other election materials in their native language.  Federal law requires over 260 jurisdictions to provide some type of language assistance.  In Illinois, California, and Nevada, ballots are provided in Tagalog.

(Source: eac.gov)

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Congressional elections occur every two years in the United States.  Voters choose one-third of senators and every member of the House of Representatives.  Midterm elections occur halfway between presidential elections.  Congressional elections choose winners by popular vote.

Just like in the Philippines, the United States holds midterm elections.  In the United States, they occur every two years, whereas in the Philippines, they take place every three years, following the presidential election.

(Sources: usa.govusa.govcomelec.gov.ph)

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When a political party chooses its official candidate for a particular office.  The nominations for presidential candidates occur at the two parties’ national conventions.

(Source: scholastic.com)

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The Oval Office is the president’s formal workspace used to:

  • confer with heads of state, diplomats, staff, and other dignitaries;
  • address the American public and the world on television or radio;
  • and deal with the issues of the day.

Why is it called the “Oval Office”?

The Oval Office is the official office of the President of the United States, whether in the West Wing of the White House or aboard Air Force One.

(Sources: whitehousemuseum.orgencyclopedia.kids.net.au)

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An initial election held to choose which of a party’s candidates will be nominated for the general election.

(Source: usa.gov)

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Each federal elected office has different requirements, laid out in Articles I and II of the U.S. Constitution.

For example, a candidate for president or vice president must be a natural-born citizen of the United States, at least 35 years old, and a resident of the United States for at least 14 years.

In the Philippines, a candidate for president must be a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, 40 years of age at the day of the election, and must have resided in the Philippines for 10 years before the election is held.

Candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives must be at least 25 years old, have been U.S. citizens for at least seven years, and be legal residents of the state they seek to represent in Congress.

In the Philippine House of Representatives, candidates must be at least 25 years old at the day of the election, a natural-born citizen, and, except for party-list representation, must be a registered voter in the district in which shall be elected.

U.S. Senate candidates must be at least 30 years old, have been a U.S. citizen for at least nine years, and be legal residents of the state they wish to represent.  Those seeking state or local office must meet requirements established by those jurisdictions.

In the Philippines, a Senate candidate must be at least 35 years old, a natural-born citizen, and a resident of the Philippines for not less than 2 years.

(Sources: usa.govsenate.govhistory.house.govofficialgazette.gov.phofficialgazette.gov.ph)

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A newly proposed law or a proposal to repeal an existing law, which is left to the voters to approve or reject.  Some states require the following to be approved by a referendum before they can be adopted:

  • Spending bills
  • Bond issuances
  • Amendments to the state’s constitution

In the Philippines, a new constitution was approved by referendum in 1987.

(Sources: officialgazette.gov.phusa.gov)

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A Tuesday in February or March when the largest number of states and territories hold presidential primary elections or caucuses.  Approximately one third of the total delegates needed to win a party’s nomination are up for grabs on Super Tuesday, and candidates who perform well on the day are likely to capture the nomination.

(Source: usa.gov)

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political system in which the electorate gives its votes largely to only two major parties, and in which one or the other party can win a majority in the legislature.  Although the names and platforms of the parties have changed, the United States has been a two-party system since its founding.  Democrats and Republicans have dominated electoral politics since the 1850s.  This two-party system is based on laws, party rules, and custom.

(Source: britannica.com)

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The Constitution of the United States of America is the supreme law of the country.  Empowered with the sovereign authority of the people by the Framers and the consent of the legislatures of the states, it is the source of all government powers and also provides important limitations on the government that protect the fundamental rights of U.S. citizens.

(Source: whitehouse.gov)

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The vice president of the United States of America is the president of the Senate and takes over the role of president if the president is unable to perform his or her duties.  This has happened nine times in U.S. history.  During a political party convention, each presidential nominee also announces a vice presidential running mate.

The vice presidential candidate running with the winning presidential nominee gets the office.  In the Philippines, the president and vice president are voted on separately.

(Source: usa.gov)

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Since 1917, when Representative Jeannette Rankin of Montana became the first woman to serve in Congress, a total of 366 women have served as U.S. Representatives, Delegates, or Senators.

(Source: history.house.gov)

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Election day do’s and don’ts

  • DO: Know your polling station
  • DO: Know for whom you’re voting and why
  • DON’T: Leave when the polls close (you can still vote as long as you’re in line!)
  • DON’T: Take a “ballot selfie” — pictures are not allowed

Know more about voting rights and laws: https://www.usa.gov/voting-laws

(Sources: michiganradio.org, usa.gov)

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Youth can vote!

With the ratification of the 26th Amendment in 1971, the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18.  Youth age 17 can register for the elections as long as they will turn 18 before the election date.

(Sources: cbsnews.comncsl.org)

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Generation Z (aka Gen Z, iGen, or centennials), refers to the generation that was born between 1996-2010.  For many Gen Z Americans, 2020 will be the first time they are eligible to vote in U.S. general elections.

(Source: businessinsider.com)

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Recommended readings and additional resources: