Confused by election jargon?
Check out these basic definitions

NOTE: Special thanks to the University of Michigan Language Resource Center's staff and volunteers for providing a translation of The Glossary page in Chinese: Click here!

Absentee Voting
A way that people can vote when they can't get to their polling place in person. They can request a ballot and receive it prior to Election Day, then fill it out and mail it in. All absentee ballots received by your city clerk or township clerk by 8 p.m. on Election Day are counted. Here's a link for more information about local absentee voting.

A term for the election of public officials by an entire governmental unit rather than by subdivisions of the unit. For example, the mayor of Ann Arbor is elected at-large by voters throughout the entire city, while city councilmembers are elected by voters in each of the city's five wards – two councilmembers per ward.

The document that lists all the candidates and proposals in a particular election. Voters cast their ballots on Election Day.

A coordinated set of actions and activities with the goal of getting a candidate elected, or of getting a proposal approved or defeated.

Campaign Finance
A term referring to all funds raised to promote candidates, political parties, or policies in elections, referendums, initiatives, party activities and party organizations. These funds are regulated and require disclosure. More information about campaign finance – including a searchable database – is available on the Washtenaw County elections website.

A person who seeks political office.

A person represented by an elected public official who acts on that person's behalf. As a resident of Ann Arbor, you are a constituent of Ann Arbor's mayor, of the city councilmembers elected from the ward where you live, of the Washtenaw County commissioner who represents the district where you live, and so on.

Crossover Voting
In primary elections, crossover voting refers to the act of casting votes for a party with which the voter is not traditionally affiliated. For example, Republicans in Ann Arbor might choose to vote in the Democratic primary because there are few – if any – Republican candidates running for local office. In a primary, you can't vote a "mixed ticket" – that is, you must either vote for all Democratic candidates or all Republican candidates. However, in the November general election, you can vote for candidates in either party.

Dark Money
A term that describes funds given to nonprofit groups that can receive unlimited donations from corporations, individuals and unions – and spend those funds to influence elections – but are not required to disclose their donors.

A person designated to act for or represent others. Political parties choose delegates who attend their party's national political convention to nominate candidates for president and vice president. (In local races, voters directly elect candidates for office.)

Government by the people, through free and frequent elections. The United States operates as a "representative democracy." That means we elect people to represent our interests in making laws and overseeing government actions at all levels – local, state and federal.

Districts (Congressional)
The 435 areas in which the United States is divided for the purpose of electing members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Each district is as proportional in population size as practicable within a given state. In Michigan, there are 14 Congressional districts. Most of western Washtenaw County is in District 7. Ann Arbor and most of the north, east and southeast parts of Washtenaw County are in District 12. (Click to see a list of Michigan's Congressional districts.)

Districts (County)
The administrative and political areas of the county for purposes of electing commissioners. Washtenaw County is divided into nine districts with roughly equal numbers of residents in each district. (Click to see a county map with district boundaries). Voters in each district elect one member to the Washtenaw County board of commissioners – so there are nine commissioners on that board.

Districts (State Legislature)
The administrative and political areas of the state for purposes of electing state representatives and state senators. Michigan is divided into 38 Senate districts and 110 House districts. Ann Arbor is in Senate District 18. For the House of Representatives, most of Ann Arbor is in District 53, though part of western Ann Arbor is in District 52 and part of northern Ann Arbor is in District 55. (Click for more information about Michigan's House of Representatives and state Senate.)

Abbreviation for the Democratic National Committee. (See also GOP below.)

The process in which people vote to determine who will hold a political office or to determine whether a ballot proposal is approved or defeated.

Election Day
The day reserved for people to vote. In general elections, it is the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November – Nov. 6 in 2018. Primary elections are also usually held on Tuesdays – in 2018, the local primary happens on Aug. 7.

Electoral College
The electors of each state that formally choose the U.S. President and Vice President. Each state has as many electoral college votes as it does U.S. Representatives and U.S. Senators in Congress, but the process of selecting the "electors" differs by state. (Yes, it's confusing.) Here's some additional background about the Electoral College process.

The constitutional right to vote. People are said to be "disenfranchised" when they face obstacles to voting. (You are "self-disenfranchised" when you decide to ignore the election. Don't do that.)

General Election
The final election for a political office. In the U.S., the general election is held in November. In 2018, it's on Tuesday, Nov. 6.

Letters that stand for Grand Old Party, the nickname of the Republican Party.

Headlee Amendment
A 1978 amendment to the Michigan Constitution that automatically "rolls back" tax rates to the rate of inflation. Here's a great series of articles by the Michigan State University Extension's government & public policy group explaining how Headlee works and its impact on local governments.

A person currently holding an elected office.

A candidate not running as part of an organized political party.

A millage is a tax expressed in tenths of a cent – or 1/1,000 of a dollar – and applied to the assessed value of real estate. The millage rate is the amount per $1,000 that's used to calculate taxes on property. So multiply the millage rate by the taxable value of your property, then divide by 1,000. For example, a 1.5 mill tax for special ed adds $150 annually to the taxes of a property with a taxable value of $100,000 (1.5 x $100,000/1000). Each year the local government sends you a notice of the taxable value of your property, which also appears on your tax bills in July and December. These valuations can be appealed during a brief period in March when hearings are held by the local Board of Review, an appointed entity in each city/township.

The person that a political party chooses to represent it in a general election. This selection process is called a nomination.

Not supporting or controlled by a political party. Some elected positions – such as the Ann Arbor District Library board and the Ann Arbor Public Schools trustees – are nonpartisan, so there are no primary elections for those races. Others – including the Ann Arbor city council and Washtenaw County board of commissioners – are partisan positions, with political parties choosing their candidates in August and advancing to the general election in November. (Fun fact: Ann Arbor is only one of three cities in Michigan that elect their councilmembers through a partisan process. The other two cities? Ionia and Ypsilanti.)

Open Primary
A process by which political parties choose their nominees for the general election, and in which voters are not required to be registered with the party holding the primary. Michigan holds open primaries. That means you can vote in the Democratic primary even if you're not a registered Democrat. Ditto for the Republican primary. But you can't vote "cross ballot" in both primaries. You have to pick the party's primary in which to participate – Democratic or Republican – and vote only in those races. (See also the definition for "Primary Election" below.)

Supporting a particular person, cause or political party.

A public statement of the principles, objectives, and policy of a political party.

Political Action Committee (PAC)
An organization created to raise money in support or opposition of a particular candidate or candidates. A PAC must be registered with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), Secretary of State or county clerk, depending on the race(s) that the PAC is seeking to influence. A PAC may be formed by any group, including businesses, labor unions, and special interest groups.

Political Party
An organized group of people with roughly similar political aims, values and opinions. Political parties seek to influence public policy by getting their candidates elected to public office. In the U.S., there are two major political parties: Republicans and Democrats. Locally, here are links to the Washtenaw County Democratic Party and the Washtenaw County Republican Party.

Poll or Polling Place
A place where votes are cast in an election. (A poll also refers to a survey to assess public opinion or to forecast an election.) Here's a list of polling places in Ann Arbor. You can search for your polling place by going to the Michigan Voter Information Center.

An administrative division of voters by neighborhood – it's the smallest political unit in U.S. politics. Cities and counties are divided into precinct polling districts that have varying numbers of registered voters based on state law. The city of Ann Arbor has five wards (see below) with several precincts in each ward.

Precinct Delegate
Precinct delegates are partisan positions elected directly by voters of each precinct to serve as liaisons between voters and the Democratic Party or Republican Party. Each delegate also represents their precinct at Democratic Party or Republican Party meetings. Typical duties of a precinct delegate include registering people to vote, recruiting new members to their political party, and boosting turnout on Election Day. 

Primary Election
A process by which political parties choose their nominees for the general election. Because Ann Arbor is dominated by the Democratic Party, the primary election is often where the only competitive races occur. (The local primary in 2018 is on Aug. 7.) In Ann Arbor, there were no Republican candidates for any city council race this year. Unless an independent candidate runs in November, the winners of the Democratic primary election will be the only names on the general election ballot. The primaries for local elections are held at a different time than the presidential primaries. For more information about the presidential primary process, check out's Government 101.

The process by which voters decide directly to approve or reject a proposed law. These proposals are sometimes called ballot initiatives.

Straight-Ticket Voting
The practice of voting for every candidate that a political party has on a general election ballot. It's also known as straight-party voting, and allows voters to fill in one box on the ballot to support all Democrats or all Republicans on the entire ballot. NOTE: In Michigan, straight-ticket voting is no longer allowed, starting with the Nov. 6, 2018 election. Read this Detroit News article for details on the outcome of legal challenges and implications of this legislative action.

The length of time than an elected official serves in office between each election cycle. In Ann Arbor, the mayor and councilmembers now serve four-year terms. The term for Washtenaw County commissioners is two years.

Ward (City)
A unit within a city used for administrative or political purposes. Ann Arbor is divided into five wards, with residents of each ward electing two representatives to the city council. Here's a map of wards in Ann Arbor. And here's a link to the Ann Arbor Ward Challenge, an online game that tests your ability to identify where this city's wards are located! (Note: It requires a mouse or trackpad to play.) 

Are we missing a term that should be added to this list? Email and let us know!


More Voter Resources

More Voter Resources Page

Glossary: Your Voter Vocabulary

Links to other websites:
Michigan Voter Info Center