Decoding DC: Part One

October 28, 2016

Washington, DC has long been criticized of speaking its own language – this “Decoding DC” blog series, brought to you by the NGA Government Relations team, is here to help you cut through all the political jargon and get to the core of the issues that matter to you! We’ll be providing definitions and insight into some of the most commonly used terms in DC. With Election Day just 10 days away, this week’s edition brings you terms that are often thrown around during election season.

Secret Ballot
A voting method which allows the voter to make their choice anonymously. The intent is to eliminate voter intimidation and influence, which were a fixture of democratic elections before the introduction of the secret ballot beginning in the 1850’s in Australia. The first secret ballot was cast in the United States in Kentucky in 1888, leading to more wide spread adoption by the end of the century.

Electoral College
The Electoral College consists of 538 electors who vote in order to determine that President and Vice President. In order to win the Presidency and Vice Presidency, candidates must win more than 270 electoral votes. Electors who participate in the electoral college are selected by each of the major parties, though how those electors are selected varies from state to state. The Electoral College meets on the first Monday after the first Wednesday in December after the Presidential election has concluded. Votes are cast for President and Vice President on separate ballots. Votes are officially counted in a joint session of Congress on the 6th of January in the year following the election.

Ballot Initiative – Also known as a “Proposition”
Ballot initiatives are legislative proposals that are made by citizens themselves, and are one of the best examples of direct democracy at work. Ballot initiatives require a certain number of votes in order to be officially placed on election ballots. The number of votes required varies widely depending on the state or city which holds jurisdiction over the ballots. Ballot initiatives can be used to repeal laws, or propose entirely new laws. Most ballot initiatives are approved by a simple majority (over 50%) of votes.