US election glossary

H

Hanging / Pregnant chad A chad is the small piece of waste paper or card created when a hole is punched in a ballot.

Chads became famous in the 2000 presidential election, when the results in Florida were so close that a recount was necessary and electoral officials were forced to examine the ballot papers to determine voters' intentions.

Some voters had punched their preferences, but the chad had not fully separated from the ballot (a hanging chad). In other cases, and indentation had been made in the ballot but it had not been punched through (a pregnant or dimpled chad).

Hard money Money contributed by an individual directly to a particular campaign.

Individuals can currently contribute $2,300 to a candidate's primary campaign, and an additional $2,300 to a candidate's general election campaign. They can make these donations to multiple candidates.

The first $250 donated to a candidate by an individual can be matched dollar-for-dollar from federal matching funds.

Limits in state-wide elections vary according to state laws.

House of Representatives (The House) The larger of the two houses of Congress.

The 435 members of the House - generally known as Congressmen and Congresswomen - serve two-year terms, as compared to the six-year term of senators.

The presiding member, the Speaker of the House, is elected by a majority vote of the members of the House at the beginning of each new Congress.

House members each represent approximately half a million citizens in their "districts". The number of districts per state is determined each decade by a proportional allocation based on the federal census.

House Majority Leader The House Majority Leader is the second most powerful member of the majority party in the House of Representatives.

Unlike the speaker, he or she has no responsibility to the House as a whole, and focuses purely on advancing the interests of his or her party - for example, by organising members to support the party's political priorities.

House Minority Leader The leader of the minority party in the House of Representatives.

He or she acts as a representative for the minority party's policy position and organises its legislative strategy.

I

Impeach Impeachment refers to the condemnation of a politician for wrongdoing by a legislature, often resulting in their removal from office.

The term is common to many political systems, but the most high profile impeachment in recent years was the US House of Representatives' impeachment of former President Bill Clinton on charges of lying to a grand jury and obstructing justice in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The Senate acquitted him on both counts. He kept his office because his opponents failed to muster the two-thirds senate vote necessary to remove him.

Independent Registered voters who do not declare a particular party affiliation are grouped together under the term "independent".

Because most voters registered for a particular party will vote for that party's candidate, general election campaigns have tended to focus on winning over these groups.

Nationwide, about a third of all voters consider themselves independent, however some key states have a higher proportion of independent voters than others.

J

Joint chiefs of staff The joint chiefs are the leading military advisers to the president and the secretary of defence.

The panel is made up of the chiefs of staff of the US Army and Air Force, the chief of naval operations and - in cases involving marine corps issues - the commandant of the marine corps.

The group is headed by a chairperson who is considered a spokesperson for the US military as a whole as well as the president's principal military adviser.

L

Log Cabin Republicans This refers to a group of conservatives within the Republican party who campaign for equal rights for homosexuals. The name is a reference to Abraham Lincoln, who was born in a log cabin and who believed in freedom and equality.

M

McCain-Feingold A 2002 campaign finance reform law named after its main sponsors: Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona and Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold. Aspects of the law were overturned by the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling in 2010.

The law is designed to limit the underground system of fundraising and spending in federal election campaigns. It bans "soft money" to national political parties and restricts "issue ads" benefiting candidates. These two practices became increasingly common in elections after the 1974 Buckley vs Valeo Supreme Court decision left loopholes in campaign disclosure laws and limits on contributions.

Medicaid A federally funded programme administered at state level to provide medical benefits and healthcare for some low-income people.

Created by amendments to the 1965 Social Security Act, it applies only to certain categories of people eligible for welfare programmes. These include the old, the blind and the disabled, single-parent families and the children of disabled or unemployed parents.

Medicare The national health insurance programme for the elderly and the disabled established in 1965 under an amendment to the Social Security Act.

Medicare breaks down into two parts:

  • hospital insurance
  • medical insurance

It is designed to help protect people aged 65 and over from the high costs of healthcare.

It also provides coverage for patients with permanent kidney failure and people with certain disabilities.

Microtargeting A method of analyzing electorates in order to send tailored campaign messages to specific groups. Using similar datamining techniques to those used by marketing companies, the voting population is broken into dozens of segments and campaign material is directed accordingly.

Mid-term elections Mid-term elections take place every four years, to elect members of Congress. Voters elect the entire House of Representatives, a third of the Senate and many state and local officials. The elections fall in the middle of a president's four-year term. In 2010, mid-term elections fall on 2 November.

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