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Glossary of election terminology

Agent: person legally responsible for the activities carried out by a candidate and his supporters during a campaign.

Ballot box: where you put your ballot paper after voting. It stays locked until the votes are counted.

Ballot paper: paper with the list of names of all the candidates hoping to be elected for the constituency. Voters put a cross against the name of the person they want to represent them.

By-election: an election which takes place outside the general election time because a constituency has lost its MP, e.g. because heshe has died or resigned.

Campaign: the activities carried out by candidates to persuade people to vote for them, e.g. speaking at meetings, issuing leaflets.

Candidate: person standing for election to be an MP. You must be 21 or over and a British subject. You must not be certified as mentally ill, an undischarged bankrupt, serving 12 months or more in prison, or guilty of illegal electoral practices, nor a judge, police officer or civil servant, nor a member of the clergy or the House of Lords.

Canvass: asking people how they intend to vote to gauge the strength of party support.

Constituency: area of the country represented by an MP. Each constituency has about 67,000 voters.

Count: counting the votes in each constituency Deposit: each candidate must pay a deposit of pound;500 to get on the ballot paper. It will be returned to them after the election if they get more than 5 per cent of the votes cast in their constituency. Dissolution: the House of Commons is closed for the general election. Every MP's term of office ends.

Electoral register: list of all the people in a constituency who are entitled to vote. Each household is sent a form each year to enter the names of anyone living in that household who is qualified to vote.

Electorate: all the people on the electoral register, an therefore entitled to vote.

General election: every constituency has an election on the same day, usually a Thursday Nomination every candidate in an election has to be officially nominated by 10 electors of that constituency.

Opinion poll: a survey of people's opinions. They are often used to predict the outcome of elections.

Party volunteer: member of a political party who helps a candidate during an election campaign for free. They put up posters and deliver leaflets.

Political party: an organisation with its own particular political views and a programme of policies which it wants Parliament to carry out. Members usually raise funds, have a say in choosing candidates, policies and party leaders and help their candidates with election campaigns.

Polling booth: a small cubicle in the polling station where you can mark your ballot paper in private.

Polling day: the day of the general election.

Polling station: the official place for casting your vote on polling day, usually in the local primary school. Political parties often have supporters outside the polling station asking people how they voted in order to judge who is likely to win and to chase up non-voters if the result looks close.

Postal vote: someone who is on the electoral register but cannot get to the polling station can apply to vote by post.

Returning officer: the person who declares the result of the election in each constituency.

Secret ballot: the right to make your vote in private and not be threatened about your choice.

Selection committee: members of a political party who choose their candidate to fight the election in their constituency.

Swing: the amount by which the electorate has changed its mind since the last election or opinion poll, usually expressed as a percentage of the people who responded.

Sue Jones


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