Political Guidebook

Absentee voting

When one is not able or unwilling to vote from their official polling station, they are permitted to cast their vote via mail.

Advice and Consent

The Constitution requires the Senate to approve federal judges nominated by the President. Additionally, the Senate must meet a ⅔ majority (67 senators) to approve of treaties that the President will sign.

Amendment

An article within the U.S. Constitution added after its initial ratification. The first ten form the Bill of Rights. Can also refer to a minor alteration to improve a piece of legislation. 

Bicameral

Consisting of two chambers. The legislative branch is considered bicameral because it is composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Bill

A proposed piece of legislation that is under consideration by a legislative body.

Bipartisan

Supported by two political parties. Often refers to cooperative efforts between the Democratic and Republican Parties.

Bully pulpit

A certain position that allows its occupant to speak out and be heard on issues. The term was coined by President Theodore Roosevelt, and during the time, “bully” meant “superb” or “wonderful.”

Cabinet

A body of advisers for the executive branch’s leader. In the U.S. government, the president’s cabinet consists of the Vice President and the secretaries of executive departments.

Caucus

The registering of the public’s preference of a political party’s candidate for an elected office (often used synonymously with the phrase “primary election”).

Checks and balances

A system of government in which distinct branches limit the power of other branches. For example, the President nominates Supreme Court justices, but nominations must be approved by a Senate majority. In this way, separate parts of the government check and balance the power of other parts.

Cloture

A cloture is a closure to any debate regarding a legislative matter on the Senate floor. This can be enacted by 60 votes approving the end of the debate, also known as a supermajority.

Commerce Clause

Listed under Article I, Section VIII of the Constitution, this clause gives Congress the constitutional authority to regulate commerce with foreign entities and between states.

Congressional district

A region that is represented by an elected member of the House of Representatives.

Constituency

A body of voters in a particular region that votes for an elected representative.

Constituent

A voter represented by an official.

Cosponsor

A member of Congress who is listed as supporting a particular bill. In contrast to sponsors, who initially introduce bills, cosponsors are supporters. There is no maximum number of cosponsors.

Dark horse

A candidate who is unexpectedly elected.

Demagogue

A leader who uses common prejudices and emotions to appeal to the public. Demagogues usually gain support largely through emotional rhetoric, not rational argument.

Election Day

The annual day set by law for the election of federal public officials. Election Day is always the first Tuesday of November.

Electoral College

A group of representatives (electors) created for the purpose of electing a president. Out of 538 total electors, a candidate must achieve a majority of 270 in order to be determined the president-elect.

Emoluments Clause

Also known as the Title of Nobility Clause, Article I, Section IX of the Constitution prohibits any federal government official from receiving gifts, titles, and money from foreign governments without the consent of the United States Congress. Article II, Section I, known as the Presidential Emoluments Clause, prohibits the President from receiving compensation from the federal (other than job compensation) and state governments.

Filibuster

An action invoked only in the Senate (which allows unlimited debate), a filibuster is a prolonged speech normally presented by a minority party as an effort to delay, stall, or stop debate and consideration of legislation offered by the majority party.

Fishing expedition

A disparaging term for a legal proceeding intended to search and find information, especially incriminating information. Often seen as overly demanding or extensive.

Franchise

The right to vote.

Franking privilege

Allows Congress members to send mail to their constituents without having to pay for postage.

Fusion voting

Support for one candidate from more than one political party, allowing multiple parties to combine their constituents by listing a candidate under multiple parties on a ballot.

Gerrymander

The manipulation of state district boundaries to favor one political party over another in representation.

Grassroots

Used to describe a campaign based on the collective action of the local people in a community or region.

Gubernatorial

Relating to the governor. For example, a gubernatorial election is held for the position of governor.

Impeachment

Formal accusation of a crime committed by a holder of public office. Does not automatically result in removal from office, but instigates a trial.

Incumbent

An election candidate who currently holds the public office they are running for.

Independent

Not a part of one of the major parties. In the U.S., independent candidates are not Democrats or Republicans, and are also known as third party candidates.

Indictment

Formal charge of a crime.

Joint resolution

A legislative measure approved by both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Lame duck

A government official in the final period of holding their office, often after the election of a successor.

McCarthyism

The practice of making baseless claims of treason and subversion, primarily in regards to communism and socialism. Named after Senator Joseph McCarthy, who spearheaded largely baseless investigations against communism in the 1950s, generating paranoia.

Mudslinging

The use of spiteful and ill-natured accusations about an opponent with the ultimate goal of damaging their reputation.

Necessary and Proper Clause

Under Article I, Section VIII of the Constitution, Congress has the right to create and enforce laws that are required to exercise its enumerated powers but may not be explicitly allowed in the Constitution.

Partisan

Leaning towards a particular point of view or cause.

Party line

Policies and agendas adopted and furthered by a political party.

Platform

A set of objectives and beliefs of a particular political party.

Pocket veto

After the final draft of a bill is sent from Congress to the President, the Constitution gives the President 10 days to sign or veto the bill. If the session of Congress adjourns (when legislators are not meeting in Washington D.C.) during the 10 days and the President does not act on the given bill during that time period, the bill is automatically vetoed.

Primary

The initial election to decide a political party’s front-runner for an elected office.

Quorum

In parliamentary procedure, the number of members needed to be present in order to legally go forth with a meeting.

Quorum call

An official procedure used in both chambers of Congress to call forward the required number of members required to initiate congressional matters.

Ratification

The action of formally consenting to a provision.

Recall

The process by which voters can remove an elected official from office before their term has expired.

Referendum

A direct vote by the electorate on a particular issue or proposal.

Resolution

A written motion expressing the general opinion or point of view adopted by a legislative body.

Senate Majority Leader

The elected spokesperson for the political party in majority on the Senate floor.

Speaker of the House

The political and parliamentary leader of the House of Representatives. Serves as the presiding officer, administrative head, and party leader of the institution.

Sponsor

The congressional member who first presents a bill.

Supremacy Clause

Under Article IV of the Constitution, the Constitution, federal laws, and national treaties have precedence over any and all state laws that contradict.

Swing vote

An unpredictable vote that could end in favor of either candidate, and is thus seen as critical to election results.

Veto

The constitutional right to prohibit or forbid decisions, legislation, etc. set forth by another branch. Often refers to the President’s power to reject bills proposed by Congress.

Whip

A congressional member of a political party who is in charge of ensuring attendance during votes and keeping party members unanimous towards a certain voting decision.

Whistleblower

A person who exposes incriminating information about a public or private organization that is illegal, immoral, or illicit.

Witch hunt

An investigation launched with political motives (instead of legitimate reasons) to discredit its subject.