Kinds of Elections:

  1. General Elections - an election to fill public offices.
  2. Primary Elections - an election prior to the general election in which voters select the candidates who will run on each party's ticket. Primaries are also used to choose convention delegates and party leaders, and may be open or closed.

a. Open Primary - an election that permits voters to choose on Election Day the party primary in which they wish to vote. They may vote for candidates of only one party. (A blanket or "free love" primary is a type of open primary. In the voting booth you mark a ballot that lists the candidates for nomination of all the parties, and thus you can help select the Democratic candidate for one office and the Republican candidate for another.)

b. Closed Primary - the selection of a party's candidates in an election limited to registered party members. Prevents members of other parties from "crossing over" to influence the nomination of an opposing party's candidate.

c. Runoff Primary - if no candidate gets a majority of the votes, a runoff is held to decide who should win.

d. Presidential Primary - a primary used to pick delegates to the presidential nominating conventions of the major parties.

Election Vocabulary

Electoral College A group of persons called "electors," selected by the voters in each state, that officially elects the president and vice president. The number of electors in each states is equal to its number of representatives in both houses of Congress.

Initiative An electoral procedure whereby citizens can propose legislation or constitutional amendments and refer the decision to a popular vote by obtaining the required number of signatures on a petition.

Machine A hierarchically organized, centrally led state or local party organization that rewards members with material benefits (patronage).

Office-Block Ballot A ballot listing all candidates for a given office under the name of that office; also called a "Massachusetts" ballot.

Party-Column Ballot A ballot listing all candidates of a given party together under the name of that party; also called an "Indiana" ballot.

Split-Ticket Voting Voting for candidates of different parties for various offices in the same election. For example, voting for a Republican for senator and a Democrat for president.

Straight-Ticket Voting Voting candidates who are all of the same party. For example, voting for Republican candidates for senator, representative, and president.

Other Sources of Information:

Elections in American Memory Explores American experiences of democracy in action over time. A presentation of the Library of Congress.

Vote For Me Politics in America This site provides a behind-the-scenes look at elections. Companion website for the PBS program, which originally aired in 1996.