Absentee Ballot

An absentee ballot is cast when the voter cannot (or does not wish to) physically attend their allocated polling station to vote.

In the United Kingdom, we have access to postal votes, meaning that citizens of the UK that are eligible to vote may do so from anywhere in the world (providing that their postal vote will arrive in time to be counted).  To vote by post, you must fill out and sign a form, which then must be returned to your local election registration office in advance of the election.

Alternatively, if you are not able to attend your local polling station, you may cast a proxy vote.  This involves choosing someone (who is over 18 and registered to vote in the UK) to vote on your behalf.  As with the postal vote, your decision to vote by proxy must be declared in advance.

Ballot

In the United Kingdom, the term “ballot” can refer to two things.  A ballot can either refer to an election within an organisation, or the paper on which a secret vote is made (more commonly called a “ballot paper”).  In parliamentary elections in the UK, the ballot papers are pre-printed to protect the secrecy of the votes – each person uses one ballot (paper). The ballot is then folded and put into a locked container known as the “ballot box” through a narrow slot at the top.  The ballot box cannot be opened until voting has ended.

Coattail

The “coattail effect” occurs when the popularity of a party leader attracts votes for other candidates within the same party.  This is quite common in the UK, as voters in general elections often base who they will vote for on their preferred party (which often has a lot to do with the party leader), rather than a particular local MP.

Early Voting

Early voting allows voters to vote prior to the official election day, either remotely by post, or in person at selected polling stations.  Early voting usually is organised so to ensure polling stations are not too busy on election day, preventing or putting people off from voting.

Electoral fraud

Electoral fraud is any illegal interference with the election process, most commonly with the intention to swing the result a certain way.  Examples of election fraud include bribery, intimidation and ballot stuffing.  Even if the result is not affected, electoral fraud can reduce voters’ confidence in democracy, which can have greatly unsettling consequences, such as the establishment of dictatorships.

Issue Voting

“Issue voting” refers to when voters make their votes based on political issues, rather than on loyalty to a particular political party.  According to the theory of issue voting, voters compare candidates’ views on issues to do with public policy with their own, and use this to decide whom to vote for. It is often not as simple as it sounds, though. Often candidates have similar views on certain issues, or it could be that a candidate’s views do not match up with the voter’s on every issue, so the voter must judge which they deem most important to them.

Postal Voting

Anyone can apply for postal vote an you don't need reason. It means you won't have take day off work to vote n you can still have your say. Before you apply. You must apply in advance. Make sure your local Electoral Registration Office gets your application by 5pm, at least 11 working days before election day. To be safe that is by the 24th April. Send the completed form to your local Electoral Registration Office or download a Postal_vote_application_form.pdf.

Secret Ballot

This is a voting method in which the voter’s choice is confidential and anonymous. This works so as to lessen the likelihood of intimidation or vote buying. UK political elections work by secret ballot, and many precautions are taken to ensure the secrecy of the vote, such as the voting booth, which allows the voter to make their decision in private and away from prying eyes.

Tactical Vote

Tactical voting occurs when a voter votes for a candidate that is not his or her sincere choice, in order to avoid an unwanted outcome.  If a voter is particularly against a certain candidate, for example, they may vote for his or her likely closest rival instead of who they align with politically.

Voter Registration

In the UK it is mandatory for citizens to register to vote before being allowed to vote in the election.  You may register online or by post, but the deadline to register before the upcoming local election is the 20th April 2015.  If you fail to register to vote before this point, you could be fined.  If you register with incorrect information, you could face a large fine and further prosecution.

Voting Terminology

In the political context, “abstention” often refers to abstaining from voting – that is, deciding not to vote for whatever reason.  Abstaining from voting can often be a form of protest (if none of the options are seen as suitable), though it may well be the case that the voter simply doesn’t feel knowledgeable enough about the situation, or in a parliamentary context, that there would be a conflict of interest if the MP were to vote on a subject.  

It’s important to note, though, that abstaining is not the same as casting a blank vote.  A blank vote occurs when a voter returns the ballot paper either blank (hence the name), or intentionally spoil.  Abstention is when a vote is not cast at all.

Whip System - Three-line whips

Defying a three-line whip is very serious, and has occasionally resulted in the whip being withdrawn from an MP or Lord. This means that the Member is effectively expelled from their party (but keeps their seat) and must sit as an independent until the whip is restored.

Abstention

In the political context, “abstention” often refers to abstaining from voting – that is, deciding not to vote for whatever reason.  Abstaining from voting can often be a form of protest (if none of the options are seen as suitable), though it may well be the case that the voter simply doesn’t feel knowledgeable enough about the situation, or in a parliamentary context, that there would be a conflict of interest if the MP were to vote on a subject.  

It’s important to note, though, that abstaining is not the same as casting a blank vote.  A blank vote occurs when a voter returns the ballot paper either blank (hence the name), or intentionally spoilt.  Abstention is when a vote is not cast at all.

Ballot Stuffing

Ballot stuffing refers to when someone votes more than once in an election that only allows one vote per individual.  In the UK, measures are taken to avoid the possibility of ballot stuffing as the voter must declare themselves as present before receiving their blank ballot paper: in this way, officials can ensure that the number of people marked as present (or voted for by proxy) match the amount of ballot papers.

Donkey Vote

A “donkey vote” occurs when, in a preference voting system, the voter simply picks whom they will vote for based on who is at the top of the ballot paper, regardless of their political party.  For example, if this were a ballot paper, and the voter had to choose three candidates: 

Candidate 1 – Blue Party
Candidate 2 – Yellow Party
Candidate 3 – Purple Party
Candidate 4 – Orange Party
Candidate 5 – Pink Party
Candidate 6 – Blue Party  
Candidate 7 – Yellow Party

A “donkey voter” would pick Candidate 1 as their first choice, Candidate 2 as their second, and Candidate 3 as their third.

Election Boycott

An election boycott occurs when an individual or a group of voters actively decide not to vote in the election.  The term “boycott” is usually used when referring to not voting as an act of protest, rather than simple indifference.  A group may boycott an election if they feel it is likely to be unfair (for example, the target of election fraud/cheating), or if they believe the election is illegitimate.  In elections where a minimum turn-out is needed, boycotting the election could also have the effect of making the result invalid.

Electorate

An “electorate” is another word for a constituency or ward: a district where the residents (known as “constituents”) elect a representative in parliament.  Normally you may only vote in a constituency if you are a resident there.  Many politicians base their political campaigns in their constituency in order to gain support.

Polling Place

The “polling place” is the building where you cast your vote in an election.  The “polling station” is the particular room in which you cast your vote within the building. Usually polling places are public buildings such as schools, town halls or community centres, and they are staffed with officials who ensure the successful and honest running of the election. There may also be a “scrutineer” present, who is an independent observer who attends the polling place to make sure that there is no bias or potential corruption.

Protest Vote

A “protest vote” is a vote cast that shows the voter’s disapproval of the candidates, or of the political system.  The protest vote may be a blank vote, or a valid vote but for a non-mainstream candidate, for example, a candidate that represents a political extreme, or a “joke candidate”.

Spoilt Vote

A spoilt vote is a vote that is deemed invalid by the election authority.  This could be for many reasons, such as the voter marking too many options on their ballot paper, the ballot paper being illegible, or the appearance of other marks on the ballot paper that could compromise its anonymity.

Vote Pairing

Vote pairing takes place when two people agree to vote in a mutually decided way.  Let us use an example:

Voter A lives in Constituency 1.  His preferred party is the Mauve Party, but the Mauve Party are not popular in Constituency 1.  Instead, the Beige Party and the Grey Party are the two most popular.

Voter B lives in Constituency 2.  His preferred party is the Beige Party, but the Beige Party are not popular in Constituency 2.  Instead, the Mauve Party and the Grey Party are the two most popular.

As a result, Voter A agrees to vote for the Beige Party in his constituency, as they are more likely to win in his constituency than in Constituency 2. Voter B therefore agrees to vote for the Mauve Party in his constituency, because they are more likely to win in his constituency than in Constituency 1.

This means that both Voter A and Voter B “help” one another (or their parties).

Vote pairing may also occur in parliament, as two politicians from different parties may agree to abstain from voting if the other one is unable to vote.

Voter Apathy

Voter apathy occurs when voters are indifferent and do not care about an election.  This may explain the low turn out of an election.  Related is “Voter Fatigue”, which is a similar sentiment that occurs when there have been too many elections in a short space of time, and the voter no longer cares about what happens.

Voter Turnout

Voter turnout is calculated by the percentage of registered (or eligible) voters who cast a ballot an election.  A low turnout is considered undesirable, as it implies that voters are indifferent or unhappy with the voting system and political situation.

Whip System

Whips are MPs or Lords appointed by each party in Parliament to help organise their party's contribution to parliamentary business. One of their responsibilities is making sure the maximum number of their party members vote, and vote the way their party wants.

Whips frequently act as tellers (counting votes in divisions). They also manage the pairing system whereby Members of opposing parties both agree not to vote when other business (such as a select committee visit) prevents them from being present at Westminster.Whips are also largely responsible (together with the Leader of the House in the Commons) for arranging the business of Parliament. In this role they are frequently referred to as 'the usual channels'.

Whip System - The Whip

Every week, whips send out a circular (called 'The Whip') to their MPs or Lords detailing upcoming parliamentary business. Special attention is paid to divisions (where members vote on debates), which are ranked in order of importance by the number of times they are underlined. Important divisions are underlined three times - a 'three-line whip' - and normally apply to major events like the second readings of significant Bills.