Common Terms in Elections

By The Policy Circle Team

Provisional voting

Provisional voting was created to allow a voter, whose eligibility is in question, to vote on Election Day and have eligibility resolved later.  The Election judge signs the “Provisional Voter Affidavit” and marks one of the reasons the voter is being issued a provisional ballot.  These vary from state to state, but commonly include:

  1. The voter ’s name does not appear on the official list of eligible voters for the precinct in which the person seeks to vote and the person insists he/she is registered and/or refuse to register at the polling place;
  2. The voter ’s voting status has been challenged by a pollwatcher and a majority of the judges uphold the challenge;
  3. The voter did not provide identification when registering by mail and still can’t provide ID on Election Day;
  4. A court order extends the time for closing the polls, and the voter votes during this extended time period;
  5. The voter’s name appears on the list of voters who voted during the early voting period, but the voter claims not to have voted during the early voting period;
  6. The voter admits receiving a vote by mail ballot, but failed to return it to the election authority (or election judges); or
  7. The voter attempted to register to vote on Election Day, but failed to provide the necessary documentation.


In all of these cases, the voter may provide additional documentation to the election authority after Election Day to establish his/her eligibility.  Most election authorities will also perform some of their own due diligence e.g. if the voter’s name did not appear on the poll book, confirm that there was not merely election judge error in not being able to find it.


Provisional ballot

Provisional ballots are the ballots used for provisional voting, and must be kept in a separate, secured container until voter eligibility to vote is determined, by the election authority, AFTER Election Day.

When paper ballots are used, provisional ballots are usually a different color than regular ballots.


Vote by mail (previously “absentee”)

Most states now allow any registered voter may to skip the lines at polling places and apply for a vote-by-mail ballot.  Certain rules apply as to procedures such as who may drop another’s vote by mail application, etc, that vary from state to state.


Grace period voting

When someone registers to vote after the regular registration deadline close to an election, the voter often must vote at the same time as registering if he/she wishes to vote in that upcoming election.  This is because poll books and other materials for the election have already been prepared.


Early voting

Voting in-person in advance of the election.  The time period for early voting varies from state to state.  In Illinois, Early Voting begins on the 40th day preceding an election.



The credential is a pollwatcher’s official document issued by an election authority and signed by the candidate, political party, or other entity authorizing the individual to be a pollwatcher on their behalf.  Every person who enters a polling place — even just for a minute — other than a voter, election judge, or law enforcement must present a credential.



A “seal” is the mechanism of securing voting equipment.  It varies from state-to-state, with some states having large bumper sticker-type stickers.  In Illinois, voting equipment is packed in zippered cases.  The two zippered ends are secured with a “seal” — a piece of plastic that has a unique serial number — that looks like a luggage lock.  Regardless of type, seals are designed (1) to have a unique number that can be recorded and (2) to be designed so to necessitate being cut open to preclude their being reused.  They are similar to the plastic by which stores adhere price tags to clothes.