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Voting & Elections Glossary

Here are some helpful terms to know as we head into the 2024 election cycle!

Ballot Box: Voters use the "ballot box" or "ballot booth" to cast their votes anonymously, ensuring the secrecy of their choices. Whether voters use a paper ballot or an electronic ballot, the ballot box is designed to prevent tampering and maintain the voting process's integrity.


Voting Rights: A collection of legal safeguards designated to each citizen guaranteeing the chance to participate in local, state, and federal elections.

Voter Suppression: Attempts by an individual, group, law/policy, or political party to hinder or prevent specific groups of people––historically Black and brown voters in the U.S.––from exercising their right to vote. Examples of voter suppression tactics include reducing the number of polling sites in certain areas, instituting restrictive voter ID requirements (like in Wisconsin), and spreading misinformation to discourage/mislead potential voters.


Election Day: The designated day––always a Tuesday––on which citizens go to the polls to vote. 

Primary Election: A preliminary election held to determine the candidates that a political party (e.g. Democrats and Republicans) will nominate for an upcoming general election. Some states have closed primaries, meaning you have to vote for that party's nominee, and others like Wisconsin have open primaries, where you can vote for Democratic or Republican nominees.


General Election: Occurring after a primary election, a general election is a regularly scheduled election where voters ultimately elect candidates to public office. These elections typically occur at set intervals.

Democracy: The core of the American voting system, a form of government in which power ultimately belongs to the people. Through democracy, voters, social groups, and organizations can affect change in society. 

Local Politics: Specific political issues and processes that occur at the local level, such as city, municipal, or county politics. This type of politics affects one's community and city. 

State Politics: Specific political issues and processes that occur at the state level of government (e.g. the state of Wisconsin). These processes typically involve policies regarding education, healthcare, and transportation. 

National Politics: Political issues and processes that occur at the national and federal level, affecting the country as a whole. These processes typically involve policies regarding foreign policy, social welfare programs, and national security while also affecting state and local politics.


Redistricting: The process of dividing areas and drawing the lines of districts from which public officials are elected. Redistricting occurs every ten years after a Census. 

Gerrymandering: When a political interest in power manipulates the boundaries of voting districts in crafty ways to gain unfair advantages. 

Partisan Gerrymandering: A type of gerrymandering where political maps are drawn to make elections less competitive and certain political parties more likely to win.

Racial Gerrymandering: A type of gerrymandering where political maps are drawn to prevent communities of color from electing their preferred candidates.


Referendum: A direct vote in which the entire electorate is invited to either accept or reject a particular proposal, usually a law or government action.

Voter ID: A document required to prove a voter’s identity before they are allowed to cast their vote in an election. In Wisconsin, all voters need the original copy of a valid photo ID to vote.

Absentee Ballot: Also known as a “mail-in ballot,” voting by absentee ballot is a voting method that allows registered voters to cast their ballots in an election without physically going to a polling place on Election Day. 

Early Voting: Set days in which registered voters can cast their vote in-person before the designated Election Day. Wisconsin has in-person early voting options that vary by city and county.

Temporary Vote: Wisconsin voters who are temporarily overseas have options for absentee voting under terms of agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice. Wisconsin’s temporary overseas voters may now receive their absentee ballots electronically––by email or fax––making voting easier when they are outside the country. They may now also use the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot.

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