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527 Organization

A tax-exempt organization created to influence a particular issue or public policy at the federal, state, or local level.

These organizations can raise unlimited money from individuals, corporations, or labor unions. They must, however, disclose all contributions and expenses to the IRS.

Political parties and Super PACs both are examples of 527 organizations. The name 527 comes from the section of the tax code that governs these groups.

Watch this 2-minute video to see how SuperPACs combine with nonprofit organizations to allow for unlimited anonymous campaign contributions.

At Large

Representing the entire constituency - whether a city, state, or the country.

Automatic Voter Registration (AVR)

Policy in which eligible citizens have their voting registrations automatically updated whenver they interact with government agencies (such as getting a driver license).

It is not compulsory - anyone can opt out.

Ballot Harvesting

A practice in which voters may have their ballots collected and delivered by someone else.

In the states where ballot harvesting is legal (about half) laws regulating the practice vary widely. It typically involves volunteers or campaign workers going to the homes of voters to collect their completed ballots and then dropping them off at official locations.

Referenced by...
CA: Republican party installs illegal ballot drop-boxes (2020-Oct-12)


Two forms of gerrymandering.

Packing involves reducing the number of voting districts in which a group might have a majority by drawing district lines so that group members will be bunched into fewer districts.

Cracking involves drawing district lines so that the group's members are spread across more districts so that they will not constitute a majority in any of them.


Money used by a political campaign to influence elections - the source of which is not known.

A candidate for elected office is required to disclose who has contributed money to their campaign - as well as how much. There also are limits to how much an individual is allowed to contribute.

To legally avoid these limits, donors can donate to special organizations such as Super PACs. Money donated to Super PACs still needs to be disclosed.

To give money anonymously, donors instead give to organizations known as 501(c) nonprofit. Donors can give to these nonprofits anonymously. The nonprofit then donates the money to the SuperPAC (the SuperPAC still must list a donor, but that donor is just the nonprofit).

As the source of the political contribution now is unknown, it is referred to as dark money.

Referenced by...
Judge: Secret donations violate election finance law (2018-Aug-04)


To disenfranchise a person or group means to deprive them of a privilege, right, or power. For our purposes, it means to deprive them of a right of citizenship - especially the right to vote.

Drive-Thru Voting

A method of voting in which voters drive up to a special polling place where their voter registration is validated and they can cast their ballot from their car.

It also is referred to as curbside voting.

Election Day

The official day of voting.

For federal elections, it is the Tuesday after the first Monday in November in even-numbered years.

Election Fraud

Corruption of the voting process by those in power, with the intent of influencing elections

Election fraud can take several forms, including...

Election Integrity Commission

Officially the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, the Election Integrity Commission was created by President Donald Trump to determine the extent of illegal voter registration and voting illegally.

This federal advisory committee was created in response to Trump receiving approximately 3 million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton - his Democratic opponent - in the 2016 presidential election.

Though Trump won the Electoral College - and therefore the election - he claimed his popular vote loss was due to illegally cast votes. There is no evidence that this is the case.

Referenced by...
Voting fraud fabricator named to investigate voting fraud (2017-Jul-17)


Presidential elections are held every 4 years. But Congressional representatives are elected for 2-year terms. And, while senators are elected for 6-year terms, one-third of the Senate is up for election every 2 years.

Midterm elections (often shortened to midterms) are Congressional elections that are held halfway between presidential elections.

Electoral College

Procedure set out by the Constitution to elect a president.

Essentially, the winner of each state's presidential election receives that state's electoral votes. Each state has a number of votes equal to its number of senators plus representatives. There are a total of 538 electoral votes - and a candidate who receives 270 votes wins the election.

Though they rarely come into play, there are complications to that simplification. The actual process is specified in the following sections of the Constitution.

Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC)

A program that matches voter registrations to help identify voters who may have registered to vote in multiple states.

It matches a voter registration's name, Social Security number, driver's license number, email, and phone.

ERIC is funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Federal Office

In terms of election law, generally means the presidency, vice presidency, Senate, or House of Representatives.

Felon Disenfranchisement

The practice of barring people from voting solely because they have been convicted of a felony.

Each state has different policies regarding the voting rights of convicted felons.

Referenced by...
Tool helps convicted felons regain their vote (2018-Aug-26)


Each state defines the boundaries of its congressional districts.

Gerrymandering is when these districts are determined in a way intended to accomplish a politically biased goal. They often are oddly-shaped. It's been described as representatives choosing their constituents rather than constituents choosing their representative.

There are several common forms of gerrymandering. In the most common form, voters who would be expected to vote for the minority political party are packed into just a few districts, so more districts will more strongly favor the party in power. Another form is racial gerrymandering, in which black voters will be packed into a few districts - so even if they constitute a significant part of a state's population they will have just a small minority of representatives they would choose.

Supreme Court decisions typically have accepted gerrymandering for political reasons, while rejecting racially gerrymandered districts as a violation of the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause.

The name is a combination of salamander and former Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry. In 1812 members of Gerry's political party created a congressional district that supposedly resembled a salamander.

Referenced by...
Supreme Court - NC districts unfair to black voters (2017-May-22)
Supreme Court - VA districts race-based (2017-Mar-01)

Hard Money


Independent Expenditures

A political advertisement in support of (or opposition to) a specific candidate that is not coordinated with the candidate's campaign.

Contributions to pay for independent expenditures are referred to as soft money.

Referenced by...
Judge: Secret donations violate election finance law (2018-Aug-04)

Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck (IVRC)

A database developed in 2005 which compared voter registrations across states to help identify voters who may have registered to vote in multiple states.

It is administered by Kansas election administrators.

The system was advertised as comparing first, middle, and last names, birthdates, and Social Security numbers to identify people registered in different states. In practice, only first and last names have been used - resulting in two million legitimate voters being purged from voting roles.

Minority last names are overrepresented on the purge lists.

Voters can be registered in different states for various reasons - such as a voter's former state not updating its list. It does not mean the person cast multiple votes.

It typically is referred to simply as Crosscheck.

Leadership PAC

A type of Political Action Committee (PAC) established by a political figure to increase their influence.

They can be used to pay for things that campaigns and Congressional offices are prohibited from paying for - including personal expenses.

McCain-Feingold Act

The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (usually referred to as McCain-Feingold) sets restrictions for contributions to campaigns for federal offices.

Political Action Committee (PAC)

An organization that solicits contributions and uses the money to campaign for or against candidates or proposed laws.

Election laws set limits on how much an individual can contribute to a PAC. Corporations and labor organizations cannot directly contribute to most PACs.

Poll Tax



Under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, jurisdictions that have shown a pattern of voting discrimination cannot make changes to their election practices until the proposed changes are approved by the federal government.

This requirement is referred to as preclearance.

Without preclearance, voters' only recourse would be to challenge the new rules in court. This is impractical for several reasons, states a Brennan Center for Justice report...

o Once an election is over, the harm generally cannot be reversed.

o Even if an injunction can be obtained, a jurisdiction can try again with a similar new tactic, resulting in additional costs to challenge. Pre-clearance requirements prevent this from happening.

"Without a system of pre-clearance, the public might not even know about such changes sufficiently in advance of an election to seek relief from the courts," the report states.

For more, see...
Our discussion of voting rights
Our discussion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act
Our discussion of the Supreme Court decision that cripples preclearance.



Provisional Ballot

When someone tries to vote and their voter registration can't be verified, they are given a provisional ballot rather than a regular one.

If the voter then verifies their registration within a specified time period, their ballot then is counted as if it had been a regular one. If they do not verify their eligibility, the provisional ballot is not counted.

Public Funding of Election Campaigns

The government pays campaign expenses such as media advertisements, with the intent of limiting the influence of large private donors.

Financing may be...

o Partial, in which the amount the government provides to a candidate is determined by how much the candidate raises from private sources.

o Full, in which the government provides a set amount to all candidates to cover most of their campaign expenses.

In either case, the money is provided with restrictions on how much the candidate can raise from private sources.

Request For Additional Information (RFAI)

A formal request from the Federal Election Commission (FEC) for clarification regarding a campaign's activity.

This can be anything from an omission to an explicitly prohibited act.

A candidate has 35 days to respond to the request.

Soft Money



The right to vote - typically in public political elections.

Super PAC

A Political Action Committee that may raise unlimited amounts of money from individuals, corporations, and unions.

Super PACs are required to report who their donors are, though donors can shield their identities by giving to a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization instead, which in turn donates the money to the Super PAC. These nonprofits are not required to list donors.

The main restriction on a Super PAC is that it may not coordinate with the candidate it is supporting. In fact, the official name for this type of organization is Independent Expenditure Committee

Watch this 2-minute video to see how SuperPACs combine with nonprofit organizations to allow for unlimited anonymous campaign contributions.

Super PACs are a type of 527 Organization.

Swing State

A state in which voters cannot be regularly predicted to favor one party over another, and that has a large enough number of Electoral College votes to determine the outcome of an election.



Voter Caging

A form of election fraud designed to revoke the registration of legal voters.

Voter caging consists of mailing letters to registered voters that cannot be forwarded. If the letter is returned for some reason, the recipient's voter registration is challenged on the grounds that they do not legally reside at that address.

If these mailings are targeted to areas with a high concentration of voters likely to support an opposing party, the practice can affect the outcome of the election in the favor of the organization sending them.

The term caging also can apply to similar practices that challenge a legal voter's eligibility.

Voter Fraud

The intentional corruption of the voting process by voters.

This can involve someone casting a vote who is not legally allowed to vote, or someone casting multiple votes in an election.

Voter ID


Voter Suppression

A political strategy to prevent a group of would-be voters from voting or from registering to vote.


A vote for someone whose name is not listed on their ballot.

Rules for write-in votes vary both by state and by the office being voted for.

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