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Civics Glossary

The purpose of this glossary is to give readers of “Diary of a Future Politician” a better understanding of civics (the relationship between government and its citizens) and political science. The author recommends that readers who have not had much exposure to the inner workings of a political party or have not served as board members in volunteer organizations to give this glossary a quick review.


A pension plan in the United States where workers can put a small portion of their pay into a retirement fund. This money is considered non-taxable until it is taken out of the plan. Other western countries have similar plans.


Winning an election because no one else was nominated for the position.


    1) A list of topics to be discussed and decided at a meeting.
    2) A goal for a member or faction within an organization.


A change in wording to a motion or constitution.

Annual General Meeting (AGM)

A meeting of the organization to elect its executive committee and/or officers. For most organizations, this AGM is a legal obligation to be held once a year. The executive committee usually decides the time and location of the AGM.


A piece of paper on which a voter can express his/her voting intention.

A write-in ballot is a ballot where the voter writes in the name of his or her preferred candidate.

Bending/Breaking the Rules

Bending the rules occurs when a person or faction finds a flaw or loophole in current rules to gain anelectoral advantage. The “bending” party insists its interpretation is right.

Breaking of the rules is when a faction violates the rules. In other words, due process has clearly not been followed.

Political parties are reluctant to publicly investigate internal elections when allegations are made about bending or breaking of rules. So the winning side is usually deemed the legitimate winner even if something was wrong with the internal election. When attention is diverted from the controversy, party insiders might investigate and devise procedures to prevent bending/breaking next time. But seldom do they overturn the result or re-do the election.


See Civil Service/Civil Servants

This terminology is often used to portray civil service in a negative light.


    1. A competition for rival political parties to win the election.
    2. An aggressive operation to gain a certain objective (like win the election).


The person a political party has selected to represent that party in the general election.

This term can also be used for someone aspiring to public office—and has met the rules to have his/her name on a ballot.


Canvassing is the solicitation of votes, funds, opinions, subscriptions, sales, and other matters. It involves a “canvasser” asking a specific group of people one-by-one.

For political parties, the primary purpose of canvassing is to identify its supporters and later encourage these supporters to vote on election day.

Political canvassing is done in two ways. In the weeks before the election, house canvassing (or door knocking) refers to an unscheduled and brief visit at the voter’s home. The party candidate or a party worker has a brief conversation with the voter. Similarly, phone canvassing is a seemingly random phone call to voters in an electoral district. If a voter seems to be a supporter, that name, address,and phone number is put on a list.

On election day, all the people on the party’s list are called and encouraged to vote—if there are enough election volunteers to do the phoning. All this phoning is done at a central campaign office.

Canvassing requires a lot of volunteers to be done effectively. These volunteers are often referred to as “the ground team.” The quality of the ground team can determine the winner and loser in a close election.

If a party or party candidate has popular support at the local level, they should be able to attract enough volunteers for the ground team.

A secondary reason for canvassing is to influence the undecided voters. Often a personal contact during a canvass is enough to convince some voters to vote in the party’s favor.

In these days of social media and cell phones, canvassing is becoming less important in winning elections. This means the volunteers behind political parties are also becoming less important. Western democracy is losing one of its informal check-and-balances: the necessity of average people working for political parties in the general elections.

Chair / Chairperson

The chairperson (or chair) conducts the meeting such that the meeting agenda is followed, civil discussion is allowed and votes happen to make decisions. Ideally, the chair should be neutral in the decision-making. But in less formal organizations, the chair may even be the leader of one side of the issue—as long as fairness is applied to the other side.

For organizations that enforce rigorous application of parliamentary procedures, the chair should be reasonably knowledgeable about these procedures. Some organizations hire certified parliamentarians to guide the chair, especially when an organization is going through some internal conflict. Having a parliamentarian helps convince members the process was fair.

The president of the organization is usually given the task of chairing meetings.


A democratic process that prevents elected politicians or civil servants from abusing their position.


The study or science of the privileges and obligations of citizens.

Civil Court

The court where two or more citizens or organizations in a non-criminal dispute can put their case to a judge, who will then make a decision based on the evidence and merits of the arguments of the citizens.

Civil Service / Civil Servants

Civil Service refers to the mechanisms of how laws are applied. While the laws are approved by elected representatives, it is the civil servants who apply these laws to various citizen-to-government interactions. The civil servants must abide by these laws when making their decisions.

In other words, the elected representatives are not usually involved in day-to-day decisions of government.


Reaching a decision by general agreement and without contention.


The system of rules under which a political jurisdiction, corporation, or organization is governed.
Some organizations may refer to their constitution as “articles” or “bylaws.” But the meanings are slightly different. “Articles” refers to the legal rules established by the government that organizations (such as corporations and societies) adopt as their rules. In this way, such organizations need not write their own constitution when they are set up; they just use the proven rules in the articles. “Bylaws” are changes to the articles each organization makes for itself. Usually there are just a few bylaws, often none. If there is a legal conflict between the articles and bylaws, the bylaws take legal precedence.


A dictionary definition of this term is: “the act of seeking advice or information.”

The TDG moves this term to a higher level: “the act of combining the knowledge, experience, and wisdom of all participants into one decision.”


Thoughtful consideration before a decision is made.


This is an elusive term to define. It could be generally defined as “the will of the people” as opposed to “the will of the ruler.”

It is commonly assumed that democracy started in Athens around 600 BC. Then and there, the “people” took the responsibility of societal decisions away from the wealthy classes. They had meetings with discussions on issues facing Athens. They made decisions by majority vote.

However, the “people of Athens” were the free men of that society. Women had no democratic rights. And Athens was a slave economy, and slaves had no say. Because slaves did all the work, the men had ample time to participate in political discussions and conduct votes.

The philosopher Plato was critical of Athenian democracy. He did not believe the masses could govern wisely because they could be enticed into emotional, rather than logical decisions. He envisioned the “republic” as a better form of governance, where citizens would elect representatives—and these wiser representatives would make the laws. The government would then rule by these laws, rather than having the people vote on all issues of governance.

Western democracies today actually behave more like Plato’s republic than Athenian democracy. So the two terms—democracy and republic—are often used interchangeably, which contributes to the definition of democracy being vague.

Another reason for the vagueness is that democracy is often associated with voting and elections. But even oligarchies have votes and elections. That alone does not make them democratic in a western sense. There is more to democracy than votes and elections.

The author recommends reading “The Struggle for Democracy” by Patrick Watson. There is also a documentary series of the same name.

Due Process

Due process is a phrase often used in democracies. It means following established rules to effect change in a democratic way.

For example, here is the due process to amend the constitution of Northwest Riverbend:

    1. The executive committee must approve of the amendment as per its majority vote rules.
    2. The executive committee must set up a meeting of the membership for the purpose of making this amendment.
    3. The executive committee must give all members notice of this meeting by mail.
    4. Quorum of at least 10% of members must attend the meeting.
    5. The amendment must pass with a 2/3 vote of members attending the meeting.

All five steps are necessary to amend this particular constitution.

There are many more due processes in a democracy, from arresting a citizen for a crime, to setting up a trial to pass judgment in a business dispute, to a political party submitting the name of their candidates for the election, to an oil company getting approval to drill a new oil well, and to getting a permit for a peaceful protest. Due process are the rules that must be followed.

It should be noted that these rules (or due process) often take a lot of deliberation to establish. The people writing the rules have spent a lot of time considering alternatives and observing how previous rules have worked or haven’t worked. When an average citizen encounters due process, it often appears to be bureaucratic hurdles that obstruct more than help. But there are good reasons for those hurdles that citizens often do not understand. 


    1. To work for the success of a political party, person, or cause;
    2. to attempt to convince voters to vote in a certain way.

Election Irregularities

When elections are not conducted by the rules.

Electoral College

The current system to elect the President of the United States.

Initially the United States was designed to have the president elected indirectly:

    1. Citizens would elect the state legislators.
    2. State legislators would elect, from among themselves, the electors.
    3. The electors convene in Washington to elect the president.

This series of elections has been manipulated. Legally speaking, the Electoral College is still an indirect election, thereby keeping within the intent of the Constitution. Practically speaking, the Electoral College is a direct election because the names of the presidential candidates are on the ballot, not the names of the electors.

Another feature of the modern Electoral College is the winner-take-all contest. Forty-eight of the 50 states give all the electors to the winning party. The losing political party gets no electoral votes in that state—even if it loses by a small margin. The Electoral College is often described as undemocratic and there has been a small but consistent political pressure to change it. Any state legislature has the right to change how it elects its electors.

Electoral Rules

The rules governing an election to provide boundaries for political parties regarding what they can and cannot do in an election campaign.

The rules also provide guidance and boundaries for administrators of the election, especially towards voter registration, ballots, and ballot counting.


The state of a particular group having an unfair advantage in society, usually by belonging to the wealthier classes.

Executive Committee

The group of people selected to run the affairs of the organization.

Quite often, the term “board of directors” or “board” is used.


A group of individuals within a larger group. For example, the football team in a high school can be considered a faction in the high school.

Factions often imply a formal or informal contest within the larger group. For example, high school students of similar economic backgrounds may associate with each other, but not with students of other economic backgrounds. Both would be considered as factions—especially if both were competing to control the student council.

Factions are often associated with power. For example, political parties are actually factions of general society. The goal of the parties is to win elections in order to gain or hold on to power. And within each party, there are internal factions, competing with each other, for the right to use the party to acquire power.

In western democracy, most voters tend to vote for factions, not individuals. The TDG reverses this thinking.

Founding Fathers

This term refers to the men that wrote the US Constitution in 1789.

At this point, the author is going to offer his opinion. To start, the author acknowledges the important contributions American democracy has brought to the world. It’s hard to imagine a world where 90% of us (in western nations) would still be living in subsistence conditions as peasants. The world did learn a lot from the American experiment.

When building the constitution, the Founding Fathers had only one working democratic example to draw from: the British democracy, which was established in 1688. The fathers borrowed features from this model and made adjustments to improve it, such as the amending formula to allow the people to make changes if the political will was there.

However, the term “Founding Fathers” mythologizes these men. The myth somehow casts these men as being guided by God to create a new God-inspired nation. Because of this myth, it is hard for the USA to see past its own history and move itself into the 21st century.

The Founding Fathers were not exactly “good” men. Many owned slaves and saw no moral conflict with their obvious racism. The fathers did not put women’s rights into the Constitution and did not give the common man the vote. It could be argued that the fathers were just a product of their time. And because they included an amending formula into the Constitution, they allowed for changes such that the USA could move past its racism, misogyny, and elitism.

Unfortunately, these traits still permeate throughout American society. And the Constitution has not been changed for 50 years!

It’s time for a new way. This new way should not have racism, misogyny, and elitism hovering around its deliberations. It is time for a new set of founding fathers—and mothers!


The people and institutions responsible for creating and applying laws.


The method and process of determining laws and their applications.


A formal ceremony to celebrate the start of something new or placing someone into a formal role.


Arguing within the group

Internal Election

An election of candidates or officers for a political party. Only members of the party or elected delegates are allowed to vote.


A deliberative body of people who are empowered to make, change, or repeal laws for the society they govern.

Legislatures employ more complex parliamentary procedures than Robert’s Rules of Order. The reason for complexity is to provide more transparency in government as well as to minimize abuse of power. Usually it takes several weeks (or longer) for a legislature to make a decision.

When governments need to make faster decisions, previous laws define the limit for the executive side of government to make those decisions.

An important foundation for legislative rules is the distrust of politicians. When the TDG is fully implemented, there will be a more trustful relationship between the elected representatives and the citizens. A different set of rules will likely be created.


A weakness in written rules or regulations that can lead, when exploited, to an unfair advantage of one group over another.

A loophole may be created by poor legislative writing. But often loopholes are created by the legislators not fully understanding all the consequences of new legislation. When this legislation is put into practice, its flaws are more apparent.

Majority Vote

When one side of an issue gets at least 50% of votes cast. Different organizations have different rules for tie votes. So often the term “50% + 1” is used to imply a majority vote.


Prejudice against women.


The official record of what was discussed and decided at a meeting. The secretary typically records the minutes.

It is common practice to review the minutes of the previous meeting to ensure the decisions have been recorded correctly. When the minutes of a previous meeting are approved, the minutes become a legal document of the organization.


A motion is a formal proposal for a meeting to consider as per the rules of parliamentary procedures.

A motion is made by a member stating “I move that _______”. In some parliamentary procedures, that motion becomes the current focus for the meeting. In other parliamentary procedures, motions must have a seconder. This means a second member has to say: “I second that motion.” This second puts the motion into the current discussion. The chair is obligated to keep the discussion on that motion until it is somehow decided on.

Non-Profit Association/Organization/Society

An organization that does “good works” for society but is mostly outside of direct government control. For example, the Red Cross is a non-profit organization.
A half century ago, the word “charity” was used to describe organizations that provided good works.


A formal piece of communication to the members of an organization. The mechanism and timing of the notice is usually described in the constitution.


In many parliamentary procedures, a member raises an objection when he/she believes the rules are not being followed. The chair is required to deal with the objection before any further business can be conducted, including the motion currently being discussed. This often requires an interpretation of the rules, usually by the chair. If enough members feel the chair has made a mistake in interpreting the rules, the chair starts losing credibility in providing a fair forum. There are parliamentary ways to find another chair.


Members of the executive committee who have been assigned specific functions. Traditional officer positions are:

    1. President: chairs the meetings and is usually the official spokesperson of the organization
    2. Secretary: responsible for correspondence and recording the minutes of the meeting
    3. Treasurer: responsible for the finances of the organization

Duties may be added or removed from these positions. Other officer positions may be created.

Traditionally, officers are elected position-by-position at the annual general meeting. However, more organizations are electing only the members of the executive committee, which later assigns the officers.


A system of government that is “not democratic.”

Examples are dictatorships, monarchies, one-party states, and democracies with rigged elections. In all these cases, it is difficult for a society to replace its governors.

Oversee / Oversight

Having someone from outside the immediate decision-making process to look over and inspect proposals. Often the oversight ensures compliance with existing rules and regulations. Sometimes oversight provides other perspectives for the decision-making body to consider.

In the novel, the executive committee creates the amendment. But the amendment decision actually belongs to the membership. So the membership is, in effect, overseeing the work of executive committee.

Parliamentary Procedures

The rules of conduct for decision-making bodies to discuss and decide issues.

Party Affiliation

The political party to which a candidate is representing.

Many ballots have the party affiliation attached to the candidates’ names. Many voters base their vote on the party, so they need this cue to cast their vote in their intended direction. 

This term can also refer to a supporter of a political party. For example, many Americans identify themselves as Republican or Democrat. Many of them have never been in the back rooms of their respective party affiliations and experienced how politics really works.


A signed list of citizens or members making a specific request to the government or an organization.


A direct vote by qualified citizens of a state on an affair of that state. Plebiscites are initiated by the people.

In contrast, “referendum” usually means a direct vote initiated by the government. However, these terms are often used interchangeably.

Plurality Vote

An election where the person with the most votes gets the position. If there are more than two people competing for a position, the “most votes”sometimes has less than a majority. For example, consider a 100-member organization: Candidate A gets 40 votes; Candidate B gets 35 votes, and Candidate C gets 25 votes. Under plurality rules, Candidate A would get the job—even though he or she had less than a majority.

Because pluralities often do not get a majority vote, they are criticized as being undemocratic. There are two mechanisms that provide more legitimacy. The first is run-off elections. In the above case, Candidate C would be dropped from the ballot.Another vote is called but only with Candidate A and B. Because there are only two candidates, the winner will have a majority.

The second mechanism is ranked ballots. In this system, voters can rank their preferences on the ballot. When the first-round vote counting is complete—and there is no majority winner, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is dropped from the list. But those ballots are given to the voters’ second choices. In each counting round, the lowest number is dropped and those ballots are recast until there is a winner with a majority.

Plurality elections, run-off elections, and ranked ballots all have their advantages and disadvantages. While run-off elections and ranked ballots may seem to be more democratic, they have their flaws. Run-off elections tend to cause voter fatigue—and voters drop out of voting after the first round. Ranked ballots are more complicated to fill in, and some voters become confused. In other words, run-off and ranked ballots cause lower voter turnout, thus suggesting the election is less democratic.

Political Party

An official group of people who pool resources to win an election. The party might have a common ideology or direction, but the primary intent is to win elections.

Western democracies have a legal process for new groups to start new political parties.


The process of conducting affairs of governance.

This term is often used negatively to imply power and power accumulation.


    1. A place where a citizen can cast a vote.
    2. A process to determine the thinking of a population by asking questions to a small group of citizens.

Popular Vote

An election where most people can the opportunity to vote and each vote is equivalent to other votes.


An introductory text to briefly explain the intent of a larger text.


The minimum number of members at a meeting to legally conduct business for the organization. If quorum is not reached, no business should be done.

Quorum is established in the organization’s constitution. It is expressed either as absolute number (such as 10 members) or as a percentage of total membership (such as 10% of members). Quorum should be set low enough for the organization to make a decision yet high enough to ensure sufficient oversight is present.


A belief that one race is superior or inferior to other races. This leads to prejudice and discrimination.


An event organized by a political party to showcase the party and its candidates. Rallies are staged to generate lots of emotion and enthusiasm and media attention. If staged well, a rally will give the impression of greater support for the party than there may actually be. After a successful rally, supporters tend to volunteer time and donate money to the party. Undecided voters may be influenced to vote for the party after a successful rally.


To formally approve of something and make it official through a vote of the membership.


In a democracy, a representative is an elected person who represents a group of people in government.


The art of making persuasive speeches or commentary. In a philosophical sense, rhetoric often employs logic, facts, and a well-constructed explanation. In a political sense, rhetoric is often exaggerated or emotional.

Robert’s Rule of Order

A popular set of parliamentary procedures used by organizations in USA and Canada to guide their meetings. There are other sets of procedures available, which have many similarities with Robert’s.

Some rules have become traditions. For example, many business meetings often employ features of Robert’s Rules even though the rules are far from being fully employed in such meetings.

Robert’s Rules are also be used in many government meetings. But the making of actual legislation requires a more complicated set of rules.

Robert’s Rules was devised by Henry Martyn Robert circa 1880. Robert saw a need for non-legislative bodies to have simpler rules for their deliberations than the rules used by legislatures. The three basic tenets of his rules are:

    1. Efficiency in decision making
    2. The minority has the right to speak and influence the meeting
    3. The majority decision prevails after a proper vote.

It is the author’s belief that the cultural knowledge of Robert’s Rules is slowly being eroded. On one hand, people are participating less in civics than they used to, so there is less collective experience with the rules. When inexperienced people engage in a forum with lots of rules, they are more likely to drop out. On the other hand, functional groups are learning how to use consultative approaches. When there is internal trust in a group, the rules are less necessary.

Rubber Stamp

Slang for a decision that happens without much discussion or disagreement. The proposal easily passes.

Show of Hands

Voting done by raising a hand to show a “yea” or “nay”. The chairperson counts the vote to determine the outcome.

Show of hands is not a secret ballot. It is usually used in smaller meetings.

Second / Seconder

A common parliamentary rule to show that a motion has the support of at least one other person in the meeting. If a motion is not seconded, it cannot be discussed or voted on.

The primary purpose of seconding a motion is to prevent one member from continually making unwanted motions, thus obstructing the meeting.

Special Meeting

A meeting of the organization called by members outside of the executive committee. A special meeting requires a certain number of members to approve calling the meeting: the exact rules are in the organization’s articles or bylaws. If a special meeting is called by due process, the executive committee must allow the special meeting to happen. The executive committee is bound by any decision of the special meeting, including dismissal of the executive committee.


Slang for paid workers in the office of an elected representative. Staffers are usually party members, often having a strong connection with the elected representative. Unlike civil servants, staffers lose their job when the politician is no longer serving.


Slang for bringing voting members to a meeting whose minds are already made up. The intent is not for these voters to listen to the other side and consider its position, but to overpower it with a majority vote to support the 'stacked' position. The stacked position often means voting for a certain candidate in an internal party election.

Stacking can be done with due process. But sometimes it gives the impression of bending the rules, leaving the losing side disenfranchised from the organization. And other times, stacking is not done with due process, relying on many highly charged people to take emotional control of the meeting.

Status Quo

Latin for “the same as before” or “the existing condition.”

Super Majority

A vote that requires more than a simple majority (50% + 1) to pass.


Often called a vote teller, poll worker, or election worker.

A teller is a person who ensures the rules for casting a vote are properly followed.

Tellers should be politically neutral. Tellers can still vote, but their primarily loyalty should be for "the will of the people." Tellers should not be associated with a political party.

Ideally, there should be two tellers for each voting station. In this way, cheating by tellers is less likely.

Tellers have a list of eligible voters. When a voter comes to vote, that name is taken off that list. The teller gives that voter a ballot, who then takes it not too far away to make a secret vote. The voter puts the ballot in the ballot box, with the teller ensuring that only one ballot was put in.

Tellers are given a set number of ballots at the start of the day. When the voting station closes, the ballot box is opened up. The number of ballots in the ballot box plus the unused ballots should equal the original number of ballots given to that voting station. The tellers will put the votes for each candidate into separate piles, with spoiled ballots having their own pile. The tellers will count each pile. The sum of the piles should equal the number of ballots given out. These number checks help covey the election was fairly conducted.

If there is any objection by the scrutineers, a recount must be done. The teller reports the result to the head teller.

Scrutineers are representatives of the political parties. They observe that the electoral processes are being done properly. Scrutineers cannot take on any teller task; they can only watch. If there are irregularities, the scrutineers will make notes and report to party officials. Ideally, each political party should have one scrutineer at each voting station.

Tie-Breaking Vote

The person who has the deciding vote in the case of a tie vote.

Under Robert’s Rule of Order, a tie vote is considered a defeated motion. The chair usually does not vote, thus giving the impression of impartiality. But the chair can vote to create a tie, thus defeating the motion.

Other parliamentary procedures will have different rules for tie votes.

Two-Thirds Vote

A super majority vote that requires twice as many people to vote in favor for a proposal than vote against the proposal.


A vote that has everyone voting the same way.

Voting Cards

Voting cards are given to eligible members at a meeting. They are usually rectangular pieces of colored paper or cardboard. When called by a vote, voters hold their card above their head.

Voting cards are used in the following situations:

    1. When guests are part of the meeting, voting cards are given to members. In this way guests won't be counted if they try to vote. 
    2. In larger meetings, voting cards usually make it easy to see the decision without counting the votes. The meeting moves more efficiently.

There are some disadvantages with voting cards.

    1. The voting has to register to get his/her card, which requires administration.
    2. The voter may lose his/her card (or it may be stolen).
    3. The voter’s intentions are known to the meeting (not a secret ballot).
    4. If a close vote happens, the chair has to implement a mechanism to count the votes, which can stall the meeting. In bigger meetings, vote counters are assigned sections of the meeting. The counters report their numbers to the chair who then tallies the result. A good plan to count votes should be in place before voting cards are used.

The alternative of using a secret ballot instead of voting cards is usually more time consuming.


A verbal indication that the speaker is voting in favor for a proposal. Sometimes this affirmative is expressed as “aye.”

The verbal indication to oppose a proposal is said as “nay.”

For a more comfortable read, "Diary of a Future Politician" is available in e-book format from Kindle and Kobo for about $3.