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Election 2024 glossary

  • Ben Wasserstein/WITF
Vote here signs outside of Central Dauphin East Middle School in Lower Paxton Township during the Pennsylvania primary on April 23, 2024 (Jeremy Long - WITF)

Vote here signs outside of Central Dauphin East Middle School in Lower Paxton Township during the Pennsylvania primary on April 23, 2024 (Jeremy Long - WITF)

It is the middle of campaign season and a ton of bureaucratic terms will be thrown around regarding the election process.

As part of WITF’s voter-focused election coverage, we want to help you understand what politicians, pollsters and pundits are saying.

Here are some terms you might hear:*

Absentee ballots Mail ballots that require voters to affirm they can’t get to the polling place on election day.
Absolute majority Results where one candidate or initiative receives over 50% of the vote.
Act 77 State law passed in 2019 that created no-excuse mail-in voting.
Annual mail-in ballot request list List that lets the county elections office know to send a voter one mail-in ballot application early in the year each year. Allows voters to not need to request a ballot for individual elections for the rest of year. Sometimes referred to as “permanent mail-in ballot list.”
Automatic recount When the unofficial results are at or below 0.5% in a statewide race, votes must be recounted.
Automatic voter registration (AVR) Being automatically asked to register to vote while doing something at PennDOT centers. If a person obtaining a new ID or renewing an ID  meets the requirements to register to vote, they are automatically presented with the opportunity to register.
Ballot Form used to cast votes. Lists all candidates and races.
Ballot drop box Option offered in some counties where voters can return their completed mail ballot. Each county has the right to provide dropboxes.
Ballot harvesting Illegal collection and delivery of mail ballots. By Pennsylvania law, voters can drop off only one additional ballot if they have written permission from someone physically unable to bring it in.
Barcode Identifying code used to track mail-in ballots and used in some counties to record votes on machine-marked ballots. Barcodes do not contain identifying information tying the voter to the votes.
Campaign committee Registered group or committee that manages contributions and expenditures for a political campaign.
Campaign contribution Money, goods or services given to support a specific campaign.
Candidate The person running for elected office.
Certification Act of making election results official.
Chain of custody Set of procedures to ensure ballots are secure at all times as they are passed from election officials to other election officials. Includes a paper trail to document the steps.
County board of elections County government department that oversees election matters.
County election director County official responsible for registering voters and conducting elections. Appointed by county commissioners.
Dark money Campaign contributions in which the source is not disclosed.
Election night reporting Results posted by the counties and the state on election night and in the days after. They are unofficial until certification occurs at least 20 days after an election.
Judge of elections Person in charge at the polling place. Elected position.
Mail-in ballot Ballot sent before election day through the mail. Can be returned through the mail or dropped off at the county elections office, satellite office locations or drop box if available. There are two types: no-excuse and absentee.
Majority and minority inspector Election officials in charge of checking registration and ensuring ballots submitted match the number of voters who showed up. Elected position.
Naked ballot A mail ballot returned without a secrecy envelope. Can not be counted without secrecy envelope.
No-excuse ballot Mail ballots that don’t require a reason to obtain. Act 77 of 2019 made this option possible.
Poll watcher Someone, usually a volunteer, who watches polling places to ensure nobody is doing anything illegal. Must be appointed by a candidate, party or political body and be certified by the county. Can watch only in counties they are registered to vote in.
Pre-canvassing When elections offices prepare mail ballots for processing. Preparing them requires removing them from their envelopes and getting them ready to be counted. It is time consuming and may legally begin only at 7 a.m. on election day.
Provisional ballot Ballot given to a registered voter who might be at the wrong polling place or believes they were unable to successfully vote by mail for an election. Within seven days the county board of elections will decide if the vote is eligible to be counted.
Reconciliation Ensuring the number of ballots cast matches the number of voters who participated in the election.
Recorded ballot Completed ballot that has been scanned.
Redistricting Movement of district lines. Typically due to demographic or population change. Required by the Constitution every 10 years.
Return envelope The outer envelope containing the mail ballot and secrecy envelope. Requires a voter to sign and write the current date on it. Sometimes referred to as “voter’s declaration envelope.”
Risk limiting audit Scientifically designed audit that uses statistical methods to confirm that the reported winner of the race is accurate.
Secrecy envelope The yellow envelope that reads “official election ballot.” Mail ballots must be sealed in the secrecy envelope before being placed in the return envelope.
Secretary of the Commonwealth Chief election official in Pennsylvania, appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the state Senate. Promotes integrity of election process, maintains registration and financial information of charities, oversees professional licensing and sanctions contact sports such as wrestling and mixed martial arts.
Statutorily required audit A statistical recount in a given county of a random sample of at least 2% of the ballots cast or 2,000 ballots, whichever number is fewer.
Tabulate To count votes.
UOCAVA ballots Ballots for uniformed officers and overseas civilians.
Voter intimidation Any activity that harasses or threatens a voter and interferes with casting their ballot.
Voter list maintenance The ongoing process election officials do to maintain accurate voter rolls.

*Created by WITF through previous reporting. Fact-checked by the Pennsylvania Department of State.

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