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The following key terms are used frequently in relation to citizenship, democracy, and the electoral process. While not exhaustive, it is designed to provide readers with definitions or explanations of some of the terminology which is common to most countries.


Absentee ballot: a mailable paper ballot that is used by voters who will not be able to vote (or choose not to vote) at their home precinct on election day (like military personnel stationed overseas). The voter mails the absentee ballot before election day and it is counted on election day.

Absent vote: A vote made at a polling place by an elector who is outside his or her own electoral district on election day.

Absolute majority: More than 50% of the total formal votes (50%+1). A term used to compare the least votes a winning candidate may need in a preferential single member voting system compared with that of first: past-the-post systems of other countries where a “majority” may well be less than 50%.  Also a concept used in some Parliamentary votes where a simple majority of all members present is not enough.

Abstain: MPs might abstain in a vote. This means that they are voting neither for nor against a motion. There is a special button on their desk if they wish to abstain during a vote.

Accord: A diplomatic agreement that does not have the same binding force as a treaty.

Adjournment: Temporary interruption during a Parliamentary session - the period between the adjournment of the Parliament and the resumption of its sitting.

Affirmative action: Legislative programs which aim to create minority equality in employment, university placements, housing  and other government beneficial situations even though, most of the time, outright discrimination against so called majorities is not ostensibly advocated.

Amend: To change or improve something: for example, a piece of legislation.

Amendment: A change proposed to a motion, a bill or committee report with the intention of improving it or providing an alternative.

Anarchy: A condition of lawlessness and disorder brought about by the absence of any controlling authority.

Androcracy: A state or society ruled by men where moral authority and control of property may also be exclusively in the hands of males. a.k.a.  andrarchy or phallocracy.


Backbencher: A Member of Parliament who is not a minister and does not sit on the front benches reserved for Cabinet ministers or for opposition party officials.

Balance of power: The leverage a small party in the legislature possesses, in being able to give, or hold back, voting support to a large, albeit still minority party, to allow it to have a majority on a vote.

Ballot Box: A receptacle for voters' ballots.

Ballot Paper: The paper printed, with the names of candidates, which a voter marks to record their vote in an election.

Bicameral: A legislature which has two separate chambers. In Barbados, they are the Senate and the House of Assembly. The two Chambers may or may not have equal privileges and powers, but are quite distinct from each other. This bicameral system has a significant impact on the way Parliament works.

Bill: The name for proposed legislation entered into the house / houses of Parliament to be debated upon for approval. If approved at all stages it then becomes an act and thus law.

Bipartisan: Adjective to describe a situation where the normally opposing political parties come together to agree on an initiative. Technically, an action supported by members of two major political parties.

By-election: A special election held to fill the seat of Parliament who has died or resigned.


Cabinet: The group of senior ministers in a government. Generally made up of the Head of Government (President, Prime Minister, Premier, Chief Minister) as chairman and each director as a secretary or minister responsible for the relevant government departments such as defence, environment, trade etc.

Cabinet Minister: A member of the executive, appointed by the Head of State with a ministerial portfolio. Ministers are responsible to Parliament for their official actions and those of their departments. Cabinet Ministers are given the title "Honourable".

Cabinet solidarity: The principle that decisions of the Cabinet must be supported by all of its members; by convention, those not supporting a decision must resign from the Cabinet.

Campaign: a series of political actions (like advertisements, public appearances, and debates) that are used to help rival political candidates and organisations get elected to office.

Candidate: A person running for office in an election.

Capitalism: An economic system based on the recognition of private property rights, where prices are dictated by supply and demand, and where the means of production and distribution of goods and services derive from privately owned resources, or capital, operating within an unregulated market.

Caretaker government: A type of governance where those in power refrain from significant actions such as undertaking major legislative programs or senior judicial or public service appointments, but only maintain necessary normal administrative duties. The reason for this is that power would be in transition due to an election being due or being called suddenly due to the success of a vote of no confidence, or some other situation where legitimate democratic government has to be restored.

Caucus: A group composed of all Senators and Members of Parliament from the same political party. Private caucus meetings are held regularly.

Census: an official count of the number of people in a region. The survey is done by a government, usually periodically

Chair: The presiding officer at a meeting of the Parliament or a committee.

Camber: The hall or assembly room in which the House meets to conduct its business.

Civil Servants: People who work for the Government. They are expected to be neutral, in other words not do anything that favours one Party over another. Also referred to as public servants.

Coalition: An arrangement between more than one political party/group. This would usually happen when no party wins more than half of the seats in the Parliament.

Common law: The law of the land which comes from neither the statute books nor the constitution but from court law reports. Originally that body of law which was common to all parts of England (not customary or local law) and developed over centuries from the English courts to be adopted and further developed in countries using that system. As compared to democratically maintained law, common law is judge maintained and modified law and is valid unless it conflicts with statute law.

Conflict of interest: A conflict arising from any interest, pecuniary or other, which poses difficulties for Members to reconcile their private interests with their public duties and functions and which may interfere with a Member's ability to perform his or her functions. Such a conflict may prevent a Member from voting on a given issue.

Conservative: people who generally like to uphold current conditions and oppose changes. Conservatives are often referred to as the right wing.

Constituency: A geographical district from which a Member of Parliament is elected. For example the House of Assembly in Barbados is comprised of 30 MPs, each from a single-seat constituency; whereas there are 15 elected members to the House of Representatives in Grenada. Also referred to as an electoral district

Constituent: A person having the right to vote or elect; any of the voters represented by a particular official.

Constitution: The set of basic rules by which a country or state is governed. Sometimes includes a Bill of Rights.    The ultimate set of laws to which all other laws made by contemporary governments are subservient to. The strength and integrity of a constitution is often reflected by the difficulty it is to be changed.

Cross the floor: To change political allegiance.


Dark horse candidate: An unexpected, somewhat unknown candidate with little public exposure who has potential to win an election against established candidates.

Debate: A discussion in which the arguments for and against a subject are presented according to specific rules. Debates also may be held via radio, the Internet or at a community meeting place. They can be held among those who seek elective office at any level of government.

Declaration of Poll: An announcement made by the returning officer naming the successful candidate elected as the Member/Councillor in the election.

Deficit/national debt: The shortfall in any one year of a nation’s income as compared to its expenditure / the total unpaid accumulated debt of the government over time.

Deficit spending: Government intentionally spending more money than it takes in.

Delegate: a person who is chosen to represent a local political party at a political convention.

Democracy: A system of government by the whole population, usually through elected representatives; a state so governed; any organisation governed on democratic principles; an egalitarian and tolerant form of society.

Devolution: Transfer of powers from the national or central government to state or local government.

Dissolution: The bringing to an end of a Parliament, either at the conclusion of its five-year term or by proclamation of the Governor General. It is followed by a general election.


Electoral Roll (or Electoral List):The certified list of persons entitled to vote at an election.

Electors: Those on an electoral roll and certified to vote in an election.

Electorate: The collective name given to all the people who have the right to vote.

Elections: These are used to pick the people in charge of our country. Everyone over the age of 18 usually gets the chance to vote in an election.

Electoral district: A geographical district from which a Member of Parliament is elected. Also referred to as a constituency

Embargo: A restriction on the distribution or publication of a document or the information it contains, until the time stipulated for its release.

Enabling legislation: Legislation which confers the power to do something; many government proposals, such as accession to international and regional treaties, require such legislation or a motion before they can be acted upon.

Exit poll: A poll taken of a small percentage of voters as they leave the polls, used to forecast the outcome of an election or determine the reasons for voting decisions.

Ex officio: “by virtue of one’s office”. The power to do something or hold an office by virtue of the fact that one holds an earlier office.

Ex officio member: Generally taken to be a person who, by virtue of an office or position held or because of an expertise, is unofficially attached to a committee in a capacity separate from the research staff or a consultant. They are not included in the quorum of a committee and are not allowed to vote and can only participate in the committee's deliberations by invitation of the chair.


Fascism: An authoritarian and nationalist political ideology that embraces strong leadership, singular collective identity and the will to commit violence or wage war to further the interests of the state. Averse to concepts such as individualism, pluralism, multiculturalism or egalitarianism.

Federalism: A system under which governmental powers are divided between the central government and the states or provinces all within the same geographical territory.

Filibuster: The use of long speeches or other tactics in Parliament to delay deliberately a vote or decision.

First-past-the-post: A system of direct election by which members of Parliament win their seats by garnering a plurality of votes. The system is criticised by those who contend it locks out parties that win a significant percentage of the total vote but fall short of a plurality. Find out more about Types of Electoral Systems»

Fixed term: Concept to describe the set term of office of representatives (eg US House of Representatives is a strict two years) as compared to other democracies like the Barbados where the House of Assembly is a maximum of five years but can be shorter at the discretion of the Prime Minister.

Formal (valid) vote: A ballot paper which has been correctly marked and counts in the outcome of the poll.

Franchise: The right to vote.

Front benches: In some Parliaments, the first row of seats in the House which, on the government side, are occupied by the Head of Government and the Cabinet and, on the opposition side, by the Leader of the Opposition and their principal spokespersons.

Front runner: a front runner is the political candidate who looks as though he/she is winning.


Gallery: Balcony in the interior of the House set aside for the public, the press and distinguished visitors who wish to attend a sitting.

General election: Either an election that is not local but is for the state or national governments or an election that is the final arbiter after the preliminary ones have been dispensed with. Can be contrasted to council, primary or by-elections.

Gerrymander: The dividing of a state, county, etc., into election districts so as to give one political party a majority in many districts while concentrating the voting strength of the other party into as few districts as possible.

Government: (1) The sovereign political authority of a State, in which are vested the executive, legislative and judicial powers. (2) Often used to refer to the executive branch of the government.

Government bill: Any bill introduced by a Minister. They are all concerned with public policy and may contain financial provisions.

Grandfather clause: An exemption to a new law which accommodates already existing entities (metaphoric grandfathers) not having to comply. For example, existing buildings not needing restructuring to accommodate new building / environmental codes. A law increasing the drinking age from 18 to 21 but exempting those under 21 who were already entitled to consume alcohol.

Grassroots: The involvement of common citizens in an issue or campaign.

Groupthink: An attitude often existing in academia or the media where there is found to be unanimity in approaches to certain issues, either due to laziness in research, or fear of the consequences of going against the prevailing wisdom.

Gubernatorial: Adjective of Governor.


Habeas corpus: Latin for “you have the body”. A writ, issued by a court upon request, for a government authority to present to court a person it is detaining, and give justification as to why he/she should continue to be detained.

Hansard: The official Parliamentary record (Verbatim) of whatever is said in Parliament. T.C. Hansard was the first printer and later publisher of the Official series of U.K. Parliamentary Debates.

Honeymoon period: The first few months of a new government during which the incumbent/s are granted a non-belligerent grace period by their political opposition and the media.

Housekeeping motion: A motion of a routine nature dealing with administrative or purely formal matters necessary to expedite Parliamentary business.

House official: An officer responsible to the House for the carrying out of duties assigned by statute or by standing or special order. Among those included in the designation are the Clerk of the National Assembly and the Sergeant-at-Arms.

Hung Parliament: A term used to describe a Parliament in which no political party or coalition of parties has a majority in the House of Representatives. The term is becoming more applicable to modern Parliaments, as minor parties and independent candidates are increasingly holding the balance of power in minority governments.


Ideology: An ideology is a set of ideas about how the country should be run. Each Party in the Parliament has its own ideology. This will help them to decide about the policies that they want the Parliament to put into place.

Impeachment: The legislative equivalent of a criminal prosecution, where a high government official is subject, by a house of Parliament or Congress, to an investigation, indictment and subsequent trial.

In camera meeting: A meeting from which the public is excluded.

Incumbent: The current holder of a seat in the legislature or of an office of authority.

Independent: A voter or candidate who does not belong to a political party.

Informal (invalid or spoilt) vote: A ballot paper left blank or wrongly marked that is excluded from the count so cannot contribute to the election of a candidate.


Joint committee: Where two or more sectoral committees may determine that there is sufficient overlap in the area or agency or policy under consideration to meet together with the relevant authorities.


Laissez-faire: Fr. for “allow to do”. An economic system with total or near total abstinence of state interference.

Landslide: An election in which a particular victorious candidate or party receives an overwhelming mass or majority of votes.

Laws: These are rules deciding what can and can't be done in a country. If you break the law, you may be punished in some way.

Leader of the House: A member of the house the governing party who has been appointed to organise and arrange the various proceedings of that house.

Leader of the Opposition: The leader of the party or coalition of parties which is the next largest after the government party in the Parliament, and which is made up of members who do not support the government.

Legislation: The process of making new laws.

Liberal: people who generally like to reform current conditions. Liberals are often referred to as the left wing.

Liberal democracy: A vague term to reflect democracy controlled by restraints that only allow the seemingly good. A constitution or entrenched common law that protects such institutions as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, a moderately free market, an independent judiciary, the rule of law, separation of powers, minority rights and the notion of the individual.

Lobby: Person(s) or group organized for the purpose of influencing the opinions and decisions of legislators with respect to some specific area of interest.

Lobbyist: Lobbyists are individuals and groups who actively communicate with federal public office holders in an attempt to influence Government decisions.


Mace: Large, intimidating, medieval, hand held weapon. Appears with the speaker of one of the houses of Parliament and used as a symbol of authority.

Maiden speech: The first ever speech  given by a Member in Parliament and traditionally granted the courtesy of no interjections.

Majority: more than half of the votes.

Majority Government: A government formed by the party or the coalition of parties holding the majority of seats in the Parliament.

Mandate: The authority given to a government and its policies through an electoral victory.

Manifesto: A formal statement of political beliefs and objectives presented by a party to the electorate. Manifestos have traditionally been a lynchpin of party politics in the Caribbean.

Marginal Seat: A seat held by a Member of Parliament with a small majority of votes.

Means testing: Limiting government benefits, such as a baby bonus or health care, to those below a certain income or accumulated wealth.

Member of Parliament (MP): Member of Parliament. In common usage the term refers to a person elected to a seat in Parliament.

Minority Government: A government formed by a party or coalition of parties which does not have a majority in the country's Parliament in its own right.

Mixed economy: An economic system which embraces some aspects of free enterprise together with elements of socialism.

Monetarism: The theory that the economy is controlled by raising or lowering the money supply.

Monocracy: Rule by one person (not necessarily anti-democratic).

Monopoly: A situation where there is only one seller of a good or service due to either protection by legislation or the impracticality of other parties to enter the market.

Motion: A statement or argument that has to be debated and voted upon in the Chamber.


Negative ads: political advertisements that attack a candidate's opponent, often trying to destroy the opponent's character.

Nimby: Not -In -My -Back -Yard. A pejorative term to describe opposition to any public policy decision, which in itself is considered beneficial, but may happen to cause discomfort, for geographical reasons or other, when it is actually put into practice. For example airports, prisons or power plants placed in one’s own vicinity, or austerity measures which may cause budget cuts also to those who thought they might have been excluded.

No confidence motion: A vote on a motion censuring an aspect of the Government's policy; if the motion is carried the Government is obliged to resign. The motion may also be brought against the actions of an individual member of parliament.

Nomination: The process by which a person applies to become a candidate for election.

Nominee: The person chosen by a political party to serve as its representative in a general election.

Nomination: A prerequisite to standing as a political candidate. Made only after the writ for an election has been issued. A financial deposit (which will be returned on the candidate receiving a reasonable number of votes) must also be lodged.

Non-partisan: An idea or person that does not support a specific party, cause, or candidate.


Oligarchy: A form of government where rule is by the few and in their own interest.

Oath of Office: An oath of office set out in the Constitution, sworn by a Member before taking a seat in the Parliament.

Official Gazette: A periodical publication of the Government consisting of orders, regulations and other statutory instruments; and Acts of Parliament.

Ombudsman: A concept, originally Swedish, where Parliament appoints a person to act as an official watchdog over bureaucracy on behalf of the public. On its own initiative or from public complaints, the Ombudsman will investigate government officials or departments and report its finding to Parliament, whereupon action may be taken. The office of the Ombudsman itself has no power to penalise, although in some jurisdictions the Ombudsman can launch criminal prosecutions.

Omnibus bill: A bill consisting of a number of related but separate parts that seek to amend and/or
repeal one or several existing Acts and/or to enact one or several new Acts.

Opening of Parliament: The formal opening of a session of Parliament. During the first session of a new Parliament the presiding officers of Parliament (Speaker of the House, President of the Senate and their duputies) are elected and Members of Parliament are sworn in. The session usually includes a message from the Head of State, in some cases this is referred to as the Speech from the Throne. View Speeches from the Throne

Opinion poll: A survey conducted by private organisations between and before elections to get an idea of how people would vote if an election were held.

Opposition: The party or parties and independent members who do not belong to the governing party. The role of the opposition is to provide knowledgeable criticism of the Government and propose ways to improve its policies and legislation.

Order Paper: The official agenda of the House, published with the Notice Paper for each sitting day, listing all items that may be brought forward on that particular day.


Parliament: A Parliament is a group of elected representatives that debates and decides upon new laws.

Parliamentary government: A system of government where ultimate authority is vested in the legislative body. The cabinet, including the chief executive, is from, appointed by and responsible to, the legislature (the Parliament). Alternative to what is known as a presidential system, where both the legislature and executive are independently appointed by the voters.

Parliamentary privilege: The privilege while (physically) in Parliament that allows an MP to say anything without fear of prosecution for slander. Also Parliament itself has the privilege to summon, cross-examine, judge and punish entities that have deemed to offend against it.

Parliamentary Secretary: A member of the government party named to assist a Minister as the Minister directs. A Parliamentary Secretary may table documents or answer questions on the Minister's behalf, but may not present government bills.

Partisan: A supporter of a person, group, party, or cause, especially a person who shows a biased, emotional allegiance.

Party: A group of persons with common political opinions and purposes, organized for gaining political influence and governmental control, and for directing government policy.

Party line voting: Despite the fact that MPs in Parliament ‘represent’ the residents of their specific electorates, at voting time they will almost always vote (unless an independent) strictly according to their party’s call, i.e. as directed by their leader rather than according to the wishes of their own constituents.

Platform: The political agenda of a candidate or party.

Plebiscite: A public vote to gauge public opinion on an issue (such as conscription) which does not affect the constitution nor is otherwise legally binding.   

Plurality: in most elections, the person who gets more votes than anyone else is the winner (even if it isn't more than half of the votes). That person is said to have a plurality of the votes.

Plutocracy: Government controlled by or greatly influenced by, the wealthy.

Policies: These are the ideas and proposals that the different parties have for changing things that they don't like, or improving things they are in favour of.

Political Party: An organised group with a common political philosophy which seeks to win and retain public office. Party organisations support or endorse candidates for elections who, if elected, usually vote as a group for its policies in Parliament. The party with the greatest numbers in Parliament forms the government.

Politician: a person who is running for office or has won an election and is already in office.

Politico: One interested or engaged in politics.

Poll: A sampling or collection of opinions on a subject. Also, the place where people vote.

Polling place/station: Numerous centres set up in each division to take the votes of the local people.

Pollster: A person whose occupation is the taking of public-opinion polls.

Popular vote: the result of the votes of the eligible voters.

Populist democracy: Ultimate democracy not restricted by a constitution or any other reviewing authority to the passage of legislation or executive orders. The alternative to liberal democracy.

Populism: Political campaigning orientated towards true democracy (voting for specific benefits, liberties, law and order programs, etc.)  rather than representative democracy where one votes for a team of alleged responsible candidates who will, at a measured pace and after due deliberation, institute a program under some general theme (even if specific legislation is mentioned). Populists will promise their agenda despite whatever institutional obstructions may exist, while  non-populists will take a more conservative approach respecting the judiciary, the constitution, the bureaucracy and the examples of international approaches to the same issues.

Pork barrell spending: Politicians arranging big spending government contracts in their own electorates so as to enhance their reputation with their constituents.

Portfolio: The term used to describe the responsibilities of a member of Cabinet. For example, the portfolio of the Minister of Finance includes responsibility for the Department of Finance and the annual budget.

Pragmatism: A non-ideological approach to political issues where “the merits of the particular case” may take a higher than normal precedence.

Pressure groups: These are organisations that want to change policy. They focus on particular issues.

Primary election: an election that chooses a political party's candidate for office. The winning candidates from each party will later go up against each other in the general election.

Prime Minister: The leader of the party in power and the head of the Government.

Private Member: A Member of Parliament who is not a Cabinet Minister, the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker or a Parliamentary Secretary. Sometime referred to as a 'backbencher'

Private member’s bill: Proposed legislation introduced not by the government or opposition but by just an individual Member of Parliament.

Privilege: Those rights and immunities enjoyed by the Parliament as a collectivity and by each Member individually, without which Members could not carry out their duties and the Parliament could not fulfill its functions.

Privy Council: A formal advisory body to the Crown appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister. All Cabinet members must be sworn to the Privy Council, to which they are named for life.

Promulgation: The act whereby the Head of Stae assents to a bill by Parliament and proclaims it in force through its publication in the Official Gazette.

Proportional Representation: This is a way of counting the votes in an election. Under proportional representation, the number of MPs each Party ends up with in the Parliament is closely linked to the percentage of votes they got in the election.

Prorogue: Prorogation ends a session of Parliament, but does not dissolve Parliament. The Governor General prorogues Parliament at the request of the Prime Minister. Any bills that have not been passed by the time Parliament is prorogued will have to be reintroduced in the next session. All committee work ceases with prorogation as well.

Protest vote: a vote for a third party candidate (who is not likely to win) that is meant to show displeasure with the mainstream candidates or parties.

Public Bill: A bill concerned with matters of public policy; it may be sponsored either by a Minister (government bill) or by a private Member (private Member's bill).

Public Gallery: The seats on the balcony of the main Chamber where the public can sit and watch what's happening.


Quorum: The number of Members necessary to constitute a meeting of a House of Parliament for the exercise of its powers.


Recess: A period during the year when the Parliament does not sit. In some countries, itsignals the conclusion of one session and the commencement of another in the life of the Parliament's Session.

Recommittal: The referral of a bill back to committee for further amendment in a specific area or for the reconsideration of a certain clause or clauses. The recommittal is moved as an amendment to the motion for third reading of the bill.

Referendum: A referendum is held when the Government wants to find out what everybody in the country thinks about a particular subject.

Regulations: A form of law, often referred to as delegated or subordinate legislation, which sets out rules that are usually of general application, rather than rules that apply to specific persons or situations. Regulations are not made by Parliament but by persons or bodies to whom Parliament has delegated the authority to make them, such as a Minister , departments, boards or agencies by virtue of the power conferred on them by some Act of Parliament.

Repatriation: The sending back of someone to his country of origin such as an illegal immigrant or prisoner of war.

Representative democracy: a government in which the adult citizens of the country vote to elect the country's leaders. These elected leaders make the governmental decisions.

Resolution: 1) A motion adopted by the Parliament in order to make a declaration of opinion or purpose. A resolution does not have the effect of requiring that any action be taken. 2) A decision of the Parliament giving a direction to any committee, Members or officers, or regulating its proceedings. 3) An order of the Parliament to a committee instructing it to consider some matter or defining the scope of its deliberations. It may form a part of the Standing Orders or be specially adopted to deal with an issue as it arises.

Returning Officer: The electoral officer responsible for conducting an election in an electoral district or council area.

Rights and Responsibilities: In a democracy, everyone has rights (things you are free to do) and responsibilities (things you are expected to do), e.g. you have the right to vote in an election, but you have the responsibility to accept the choice of the majority; you have the right to drive a car, but you have the responsibility to pass a test first.

Right wing / left wing: ‘on the right’ would be loosely described as a political philosophy which favours conservative, pro-market,  attitudes with a preference for (some) individual rights over interventionist government, a strict approach to law and order, and  a strong defence force and a sense of nationalism. ‘On the left’ would be, loosely, opposite to the above together with a so called ‘womb to tomb’ approach to social welfare and an internationalist world view.
Terms originated in the French Estates General in 1789 when the nobility who favoured complacency sat on the King’s right and those who wanted change and amelioration of the peasant’s conditions sat on the left.

Rule of law:  The traditional legal concept, dating back as far as Aristotle, that we live under a set of predetermined rules rather than the arbitrary “wise guidance” of any contemporary judge, King or chief executive. Does not necessarily imply democratic or just rule, but simply stable government where the law is proclaimed, followed, and applied equally to all.


Safe seat: Where the electorate is filled with supporters of predominately one party and thus is considered safe by that party at election time.

Schedule: An appendix to a bill that contains matters of detail not suitable for inclusion in a clause, or the text of an agreement that the bill brings into effect. Schedules form part of a bill and are subject to amendment, with the exception of treaties and agreements, which fall within the prerogative of the executive.

Scrutineer: A person appointed by a candidate to observe the voting and counting of the votes. Candidates can appoint scrutineers for each polling place. Scrutineers have the right to be present when the ballot boxes are sealed and opened and when the votes are sorted and counted so that they may check any possible irregularities, but they may not touch any ballot papers. Sometime referred to as a 'polling agent.'

Seat: A seat in Parliament held by an elected Member or the Member’s electoral district.

Secret ballot: A vote made in secret.

Session: One of the fundamental time periods into which a Parliament is divided, usually consisting of a number of separate sittings. Sessions are begun by a Speech from the Throne or a Speech from the PResident and are ended by prorogation or dissolution.

Shadow cabinet: The leadership of the opposition, poised to take the reins of government and its ministries in the event elections are called and lost by the ruling majority party. Shadow cabinets operate in a manner akin to a government in exile, formulating policies they are not empowered to enact : but that might become law if they were elected.

Soft money: money that is given to a political party but is not given specifically to support a particular candidate. This money is supposed to be used for purposes such as voter registration drives, administrative costs and general political party expenses, but is often used by the parties to help particular candidates.

Single member voting (SMV): As opposed to proportional representation, the system where only one candidate represents all the citizens of an electorate/ geographical area. Also known as  Majoritarian voting when preferences are allowed on the ballot paper.

Single transferable vote (STV): A proportional representation voting system where there is no “above the line” option to vote for a party, but only for individual candidates in preferred order. Thus a party’s winning candidates may not be in the same order as on the party’s “ticket”, and their voters’ preferences may not necessarily go where the party would have liked. However due to the relative complexity of voting and vote counting, invalid ballot papers would be higher and election results would take longer to ascertain.

Sitting: A meeting of Parliament within a session. Although usually a calendar day, a sitting may last for only a matter of minutes or may extend over several days.

Socialism: A method of government in which the means of planning and producing goods and services are controlled by a central government which also seeks to collect the wealth of the nation and distribute it evenly amongst its citizens.

Social engineering: The practice certain people believe in whereby it is held that it is not enough that governments create for the citizenry an environment where there is an adequate standard of living together with good health care, minimum crime and basic freedoms. Governments, it is claimed, must also engineer that the beliefs, attitudes and practices of the citizenry conform to what is decreed, at the time, to be socially, physiologically and intellectually healthy.

Speaker: The Member who is elected by Parliament as its presiding officer. In particular, he or she is responsible for maintaining order and decorum.

Special session: Brief session held for a specific purpose at a time of the year when the House does not usually sit. From a procedural standpoint a special session is like any other session.

Spin: The presentation of information that is biased to favor the candidates. Advisors to the candidates may engage in 'spin' in their communications to the media.

Sponsor: The Member or Minister who presents a bill in Parliament.

Standing committee: A permanent committee established in the Standing Orders of the House. It may study matters referred to it by standing or special order or, within its area of responsibility, undertake studies on its own initiative.

Standing Orders: The collection of the permanent written rules adopted by the House to govern its proceedings.

Statutory instruments: Regulations, orders, commissions or other instruments issued by virtue of power conferred by an Act of Parliament or by the President

Straw vote: An unofficial vote used to predict how an election might turn out.

Suffrage: The right to vote in political elections.

Sunset clause: A provision or clause inserted in legislation to declare its expiry date. Most legislation does not contain such clauses as the intention is that laws are permanent, at least until subsequent conflicting acts.

Suspension of a sitting: A pause during the course of a sitting of the Parliament. When the sitting is suspended, the presiding officer (Speaker or President) leaves the Chair and the Mace is removed from the Table.

Swing: How electoral results change between elections. For example “There has been a 15% swing towards Labour in this seat since the 2001 election”

Swing voters: voters who do not have allegiance to a particular political party.


Table: To place a document before Parliament or a committee for consideration or consultation.

Tea Party: A grass roots American political movement (not a political party) advocating adherence to the Constitution as well as reining in alleged excessive taxing and spending by the government. Term derived by advocates sending tea bags (symbolising the Boston Tea Party) to congresspersons who had a reputation for supporting large spending bills.

Term: The length of time a Parliament may sit before having to call an election.

Theocracy: Government controlled by the church/priesthood or a proclaimed living god. Examples could be ancient Egypt and modern day Iran.

Town meeting (or townhall meeting): a meeting of the voters of a town in order to discuss and sometimes decide upon issues.


Unicameral: Consisting of one chamber or house, especially of a law-making body.

Utilitarianism: Consequentialist philosophy originally espoused by 18th century writer Jeremy Bentham whereby the best policy is that which gives the greatest happiness to the greatest number.


Vote: a way to show your preference and choose elected leaders or decide on initiatives. People can vote by marking a piece of paper, raising their hand, or filling out a form on a computer.
(n) The process Senators and MPs use to make a decision.

Voter Turnout: The number of people who actually vote on the day of the election. This is usually expressed as a percentage of the electorate.

Voting booth: a small enclosure in which a person votes.

Voting machine: a mechanical device used for voting. There are many different types of voting machines.


Whip: A party whip is a Parliamentary party disciplinary officer who ensures that his/her party members do the right thing such as being in attendance for certain crucial votes. A whip is also the notice sent by the aforesaid to members.

Writ (for an election): A writ is a document commanding an electoral officer to hold an election and contains dates for the close of rolls, the close of nominations, the election day and the return of the writ. The writ is usually issued by the Governor-General or Head of State.

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