US election 2020: bust your way through the jargon

Do you know your faithless elector from your super delegate?

President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, March 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)
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The US presidential election is under way and we have the breakdown of some political terms and phrases commonly used in the process to keep you up to date before the debates and drama, promises and rallies, and election night.

Battleground state

A large state with an electorate split relatively evenly between the Democrats and Republicans, where candidates spend a disproportionate amount of time and money campaigning there.

Traditional battleground states are Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, which have 29, 18 and 20 electoral votes respectively.


The ballot is how the public votes. Different US states use hand-counted paper slips and punch cards, "optical scans" – read marked paper ballots – and electronic systems.

(Absentee) ballot

A ballot filed by a voter who cannot be present at their polling place on election day. Absentee ballots are often filed by US citizens living abroad, serving in the military, travelling and attending school in a different state.


Taking and posting a photo on social media while voting. Of course, this has not come without controversy. Ballot-selfies are illegal in the state of Michigan, although you can still take a picture of your ballot.

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH - MARCH 02: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) addresses supporters during a campaign rally in the Central Mall of the Utah State Fair Park March 02, 2020 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Sanders is campaigning in Utah and Minnesota the day before Super Tuesday, when 1,357 Democratic delegates in 14 states across the country will be up for grabs.   Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP

Blue state

A state where residents tend to vote for the Democrats.

Campaign financial disclosure

A report on how a candidate has spent the money raised for their campaign and where that money came from.


State and local governments run the primary elections, while caucuses are private events directly run by the political parties.

A caucus is a meeting where registered members of a political party vote for their preferred party candidate. They elect delegates to the national nominating convention for presidential elections.


A constituent is an eligible voter. It can also refer to anyone whose interests and livelihood are affected by government policy – so everyone.

DENVER, CO - MARCH 02: Campaign volunteer Andrea Kaufman stands inside Mile High Station where Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) canceled a rally after dropping out of the presidential race on March 2, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. Klobuchar plans to endorse former Vice President Joe Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination at a rally in Dallas later today.   Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images/AFP


This is where states send their delegates to a party meeting, which are full of energy and pomp, to select their presidential nominee.

The parties rally support for their candidates. Additional voting can also occur at the convention if a single candidate has not been determined through the primaries.


ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA - MARCH 02: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) addresses thousands of supporters during a campaign rally at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium March 02, 2020 in St. Paul, Minnesota. h. Sanders is campaigning in Utah and Minnesota the day before Super Tuesday, when 1,357 Democratic delegates in 14 states across the country will be up for grabs.   Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP

These are party activists, officials and even local political persons who bolster campaigns and gather state-level support for conventions. Delegates are awarded to presidential candidates from caucus and primary percentage wins.

For example, a candidate who wins 40 per cent of a state's vote in the primary election will earn 40 per cent of that state's delegates.

A candidate for the Democratic nomination must win a majority of combined delegate votes (2,376 of all 4,750 delegate votes) at the Democratic National Convention.

Pledged delegates

Pledged delegates are elected or chosen at state or local level with the understanding that they will support a particular candidate or the candidate chosen by the voters at the convention.

Unpledged delegates

An unpledged delegate is not bound to support a specific candidate.

The Republican Party uses a system of pledged and unpledged delegates, which are the three Republican National Committee members in each state and region, adding up to 168.

The Republican National Convention ruled in 2015 that the unpledged delegates must vote for the candidate that their state voted for.

Of the total 2,472 Republican delegates, most are pledged delegates. The candidate must win a simple majority of 1,237 at the Republican National Convention.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts and 2020 presidential candidate, speaks during a campaign event at East Los Angeles Community College in Monterey Park, California, U.S., on Monday, March 2, 2020. Joe Biden is consolidating support for his Democratic presidential campaign as centrists line up behind him to effectively try to block Bernie Sanders from winning the party's nomination. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg


A super-delegate is often a prominent party official or veteran politician. They are not required to be chosen or elected to the position.

Used in the Democratic Party, the super-delegate is not obliged to support any particular candidate, and can vote for any candidate in spite of whether or not the results of the primaries and caucuses are conclusive.


Electoral college

The Electoral college is a system by which electors from each state formally vote for who will be president and vice president.

Each state gets as many electoral votes as they have representatives and senators.

For example, a large state such as California has two senators and 53 representatives. A small state such as Delaware has two senators and one representative.

A majority vote of 270 out of 538 electoral votes is needed to elect a president.

Faithless elector

There are rare instances where members of the Electoral College will vote for a different candidate instead of the candidate chosen by the state’s voters.

In 2004, an elector from Minnesota voted for vice presidential candidate John Edwards as President rather than the Democratic nominee, John Kerry.

In this instance, the vote was widely perceived to be a mistake, but hypothetically, it could still impact an election outcome in the future.

Lame duck

Th colloquial name given to an incumbent President if he or she is defeated. If the incumbent president loses re-election, the office-holder loses significant influence within the US and on the international stage.

Political action committee

A Public Action Committee or Pac is a group of like-minded voters who raise money to support or oppose candidates, ballot initiatives or legislation. A Pac must register with the Federal Election Commission.

Super Pacs

Super Pacs are those that may not make contributions to candidate campaigns or parties, but may engage in unlimited political spending independently of the campaigns from corporations, unions, associations and other groups.


The "polls" and "polling" provide ongoing insight and data of voter sentiment throughout the elections on a broad spectrum of topics. Polls can be inaccurate, as was seen with the shock election of Donald Trump in 2016.


Cities or towns or villages or counties are divided into voting districts called precincts.  Each precinct has one polling centre – usually a school, administrative centre or religious building – where you submit your vote. Where you live will dictate to which precinct you are allocated.


These state-funded events allow voters to choose delegates or cast a ballot for their favoured candidate. The primaries help determine the winner of the Republican and Democrat nomination. Primaries are held over several months and help to narrow each party’s nominee pool.

Red State

A state where resident tend to vote for the Republicans.

People wait for the start of a campaign event for Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, and former candidates South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar in Dallas, Texas, U.S., March 2, 2020. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

Super Tuesday

The day when the most states and territories hold presidential primary elections or caucuses. The candidates who win on Super Tuesday are more likely to win their party’s nomination.

In 2020, the Super Tuesday states are:


Town hall meeting

A debate and setting in which candidates for office answer questions from voters. In a town hall-style debate, a moderator helps to ensure candidates follow the rules on which they agreed.

Voter fraud

Interfering with the results of an election by illegal measures such as bribery, illegal voter registration, tampering with the voting machines or ballot boxes, vote buying and voter impersonation.

There have been many court cases and accusations of voter fraud on a regular basis for many years.

Voter suppression

An attempt to prevent eligible Americans from voting or forcing them to vote a certain way.

There have been accusations and tacit acknowledgement of voter suppression through many US presidential elections.

It’s an attempt made by an official, person or group through verbal or physical threats, tests involving literacy, property ownership, or citizenship, poll taxes and other such acts.

TOPSHOT - US President Donald Trump speaks during a rally at Bojangles' Coliseum on March 2, 2020, in Charlotte, North Carolina. / AFP / Brendan Smialowski

Vote-by-mail in Oregon

Although each state has slightly different voting hours and procedures, Oregon’s is unique in that many Oregonians will vote by mail.

As concern grows about the potential hacking vulnerabilities of electronic voting machines, Oregon’s vote-by-mail system has become more respected in recent elections.

States with alternative electoral vote allocation

Unlike the 48 other states in the US, Maine and Nebraska have opted out of the “winner takes all” method of awarding Electoral College votes and have instead chosen more of a proportional vote allocation method.

Some have argued that all states should abandon the “winner takes all” method, but such efforts have not gained much traction.