Voting is a regular part of American life. But many words associated with elections can be confusing and difficult to understand. The Fort Worth Report put together a glossary of common — and commonly misunderstood — election terms to know before you head to the polls May 6, or cast a ballot early from April 24 onward.
Undervote: When a voter does not make a selection for a single choice race, or when a voter chooses fewer than the maximum number of selections in a multiple-choice race. For example, if someone does not vote for a candidate for a city council race, it will be designated as an undervote. If someone only votes for one candidate in a board race where they can select two, it will also be an undervote.
Overvote: When a voter makes more selections than allowed in a race. For example, if someone votes for two candidates when the maximum allowed vote number is one. In this instance, the vote is not counted.
Absentee ballot: A ballot cast by a voter other than in person on Election Day. In Texas, this includes mail-in ballots. A number of restrictions exist around getting an absentee ballot in the state
Ballot adjudication: The process of resolving cast ballots to reflect voter intent, when the intent is not immediately clear upon scanning the ballot. Undervotes and overvotes may require adjudication, for example.
Automated Voter Registration: Voter registration system where eligible voters are given the option to register to vote electronically whenever they interact with government agencies. A common example in Texas is being given the option to register to vote when applying for a driver’s license.
Ballot Board: A group of individuals appointed and charged with controlling elections and voting procedure.
Campaign contributions: Anything of value given, loaned or advanced to influence a political vote for or against candidates or ballot questions.
Canvass: (1) Confirming every valid ballot cast and counted. This includes confirming absentee, early voting, Election Day, provisional, challenged, and uniformed and overseas citizen ballots. It is designed to make sure every valid vote cast was counted in the election totals. (2) Soliciting votes.
Cured ballot: A ballot that was originally rejected due to an error or because it was missing required information, that was later counted after the voter corrected their error or supplied the missing information. Voters have a limited amount of time in which to cure their ballots after submitting them.
Election certification: The act of confirming final official results of an election. Election certification happens after results from all valid ballots are tallied and results are validated and approved by the election authority.
Internal audit log: A record on a voting machine used to track all activities of that machine. The log records every activity performed on or by the machine, along with when the activity happened. This log can be read by election workers.
Logic and Accuracy (L&A) Testing: A test of equipment and system readiness, designed to detect malfunctioning devices and improper election-specific setup before the equipment or systems are used in an election. In Tarrant County, election officials have allowed residents to participate in L&A tests by submitting test ballots. These tests are required by law, but allowing residents to submit their own test ballots is not.
Precinct: An election administration division that corresponds to a geographic area. It is the basis for determining which contests and issues the voters in that area are eligible to vote on. Voters in Precinct 1, for example, may not have the same ballot as those in Precinct 3.
Provisional ballot: A ballot cast by a voter who was not on the list of eligible voters, whose information was incomplete or not accurate, or who had already received a ballot in the mail and was allowed to vote. These ballots are sometimes called fail-safe ballots. They’re usually kept separate from the other ballots until an election official can determine if the voter is eligible to vote.
Purge: A colloquial term describing a process that states and counties use to maintain and update their voter rolls. During a purge, these entities will cancel registrations for voters who are no longer eligible.
Restoration of voting rights/rights restoration: The process of restoring voting rights to people who lost their voting rights under felony disenfranchisement or for any other reason that might have disqualified them from voting.
Run-Off Election: Election to select a winner after a primary or a general election where no candidate in the race received the required minimum percentage of the votes cast. The two candidates receiving the most votes for the race proceed to the run-off election.
Valid Identification (ID): Documents that prove a person’s identity, according to the laws of the jurisdiction. These can include driver’s licenses, social security cards and passports.
Void Ballot: A ballot that has been issued but cannot be cast by a voter. This could be because a ballot was lost in the mail and the voter instead came to vote in person, or the voter is no longer eligible to vote using that ballot.
Write-In: A vote for a candidate not listed on the ballot.
Emily Wolf is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.