Political Positions and Definitions

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politics_voting2_300x300Below are a number of common political positions and definitions that we as voters and non-voters alike should be aware of. Click here if you know of a political position or definition that should be added to this list.


Board Of Elections

The Board of Elections is a body of officials designated to administer elections. U.S. states often have boards of elections, as do some municipalities, such as New York City. The board is typically not under the direct control of the executive branch and therefore is buffered somewhat from political pressure.

Borough President

Borough President (informally BP, or Beep in slang) is an elective office in each of the five boroughs of New York City.

The offices of borough president were created in 1898 with the formation of the City of Greater New York. Prior to 1898, the city was conterminous with New York County. In 1898, Brooklyn (Kings County), Queens (Queens County) and Staten Island (Richmond County) were added to a city that had consisted exclusively of what is now Manhattan and the Bronx. To balance local authority along with the centralization of government, the Office of Borough President was established with a functional administrative role derived by having a vote on the New York City Board of Estimate, which was responsible for creating and approving the city’s budget and proposals for land use. The Board of Estimate consisted of the Mayor, the Comptroller and the President of the New York City Council, each of whom were elected citywide and had two votes, and the five Borough presidents, each having one vote.



A caucus is most generally defined as a meeting of supporters or members of a political party or movement. The exact definition varies among many different countries.

In U.S. politics and government, caucus has several distinct but interrelated meanings.

One meaning is a meeting of members of a political party or subgroup to coordinate members’ actions, choose group policy, or nominate candidates for various offices. The term is frequently used to discuss the caucuses used by some states to select presidential nominees, such as the Iowa caucuses.


Community Boards

Community Boards are local government bodies in the City of New York, which are appointed by the Borough President. The Community Boards consists of 50 non-paid members. They do not have any administrative rights, but they may present requests, regarding community needs, to City Administration. There is no guarantee that the request will be approved by City, but in practice the most of reasonable problems have been resolved.

Every District consists of smaller areas – neighborhoods. Some neighborhoods span into more than one district. Neighborhoods are not administrative units. Their names, borders and even population in every District are not firm and varies, depending on particular resident’s opinion. Obviously, real estate companies and developers try to play influential role in neighborhood zoning and naming.

However the New York City Department of City Planning has maps with neighborhood names and boundaries. These names and borders more or less match residents’ views on the matter and could be a good reference for sorting through this controversial issue.



A governor or governour (archaic) is a governing official, usually the executive (at least nominally, to different degrees also politically and administratively) of a non-sovereign level of government, ranking under the Head of state. In federations, a governor can be the title of each appointed or (as in the US) elected politician who governs a constitutive state.

The governor is the highest executive officer of the state. He was originally elected in April for a term of three years, beginning on July 1. The New York State Constitutional Convention of 1821 amended the state constitution, reducing the term of office to two years, moving the election to November, and moving the beginning and the end of the term to coincide with the calendar year. Until today the term ends on December 31, the next term begins on January 1. Beginning in 1877, the term in office was extended again to three years, in 1895 reduced to two years, and from 1938 on it was extended to the current four years.

Since 1875, the home of the Governor has been the New York State Executive Mansion in Albany, New York.


New York City Comptroller

The Office of Comptroller of New York City is the chief fiscal officer and chief auditing officer of the city. The comptroller is elected, citywide, to a four-year term and can hold office for two consecutive terms. The comptroller is responsible for auditing the performance and finances of city agencies, making recommendations regarding proposed contracts, issuing reports on the state of the city economy, marketing and selling municipal bonds, managing city debt, and serving as managing trustee of the public employees pensions funds. As managing trustee, the comptroller presides over the boards of the funds, along with managing assets. Overall fund governance is with boards of the individual funds.


New York City Council

The New York City Council is the lawmaking body of the City of New York. It comprises 51 members from 51 council districts throughout the five boroughs. The Council serves as balance of power against the mayor in a “strong” mayor-council government model. The council monitors performance of city agencies and makes land use decisions as well as legislating on a variety of other issues. The City Council also has sole responsibility for approving the city budget and each member is limited to two consecutive terms in office.

The head of the City Council is called the Speaker. The New York Public Advocate presides at meetings of the City Council and is a member of all Council committees. The Public Advocate also has the power to introduce legislation.


New York City Mayor

A mayor (from the Latin maior, meaning “larger”,or greater than “greater”) is the modern title of the highest ranking municipal officer.

The Mayor of New York City is the head of the executive branch of the Government of New York City. The office administers all city services, public property, police and fire protection, most public agencies, and enforces all city and state laws within the city. The Mayor is directly elected by popular vote for a four year term, and is barred from serving more than two consecutive terms.

The Mayor’s office is located in New York City Hall and has jurisdiction over all five boroughs of New York City: Manhattan, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island. The Mayor appoints a large number of officials, including commissioners who head city departments, and his or her deputy mayors.


New York City Public Advocate

The Public Advocate is a directly elected executive official and heads the Office of the Public Advocate. The Public Advocate’s primary responsibility is to ease public relations with the government, investigate complaints regarding city agencies, mediate disputes between city agencies and citizens, serve as the city’s ombudsman and advise the mayor on community relations. The Public Advocate is an ex-officio member of all Council committees and is permitted to introduce legislation in the Council.

A holdover from what was City Council President, the position of Public Advocate has little real enforceable authority. The Public Advocate stands first in line of succession to the mayoralty in the event of inability or incapacity of the mayor to continue in office, until a new election can be held.


New York State Assembly

The New York State Assembly is the lower house of the New York Legislature, the state legislature of the U.S. state of New York. The Assembly is composed of 150 members representing an equal amount of districts, with each district having an average population of 127,000. Assembly members serve two-year terms without term limits. The Assembly convenes at the State Capitol in Albany.

The Speaker of the Assembly presides over the State Assembly. The Speaker is elected by the majority party caucus followed by confirmation of the full Assembly through the passage of an Assembly Resolution. In addition to presiding over the body, the Speaker is also the chief leadership position, and controls the flow of legislation and committee assignments. The minority leader is elected by party caucus. The majority leader of the Assembly is selected by, and serves at the pleasure of, the Speaker.


New York State Senate

The New York State Senate is one of two houses in the New York State Legislature and has members each elected to two-year terms. The state Constitution provides that the default membership be fifty members. However, it also provides that if any county would by virtue of its population be entitled to more than three Senators, then the first three Senators would count towards the limit of fifty, while the remainder would be in addition to the fifty.

Currently, there are twelve additional Senators (who are in terms of legislative power equal to any other Senators), making the total membership 62.


New York Legislature

The New York Legislature is the state legislature of the U.S. state of New York. It is a bicameral legislature, consisting of the lower house New York State Assembly and the upper house New York Senate. The legislature is seated at the New York State Capitol in Albany. Both Assembly members and Senators serve two-year terms. In order to be a member of either house, one must be a citizen of the United States, a resident of the state of New York for at least five years, and a resident of the district for at least one year prior to election. The lower Assembly consists of 150 members, each chosen from a single-member district. The Senate includes a varying number of members. The New York Constitution provides that the default membership be fifty members. However, it provides that if any county would by virtue of its population be entitled to more than three Senators, then the first three Senators would count towards the limit of fifty, while the remainder would be in addition to the fifty. Currently, there are twelve additional Senators (who are in terms of legislative power equal to any other Senators), making the total membership sixty-two.



A primary election (nominating primary) is an election in which voters in a jurisdiction select candidates for a subsequent election. In other words, primary elections are one means by which a political party nominates candidates for the following general election. “Primaries” are common in the United States, where their origins are traced to the progressive movement. There, primary elections are conducted by government on behalf of the parties. Elsewhere in the world, the nomination of candidates is instead usually the responsibility of the political party organizations themselves and does not use the public apparatus.


Secretary of State (US Government)

Secretary of State is an official in the state governments of 47 of the 50 states of the United States. In Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, this official is called the Secretary of the Commonwealth. In the states of Alaska, Hawaii, and Utah, there is no Secretary of State; in those states many duties that a Secretary of State might normally execute fall within the domain of the Lieutenant Governor. Like the Lieutenant Governor, in most states the Secretary of State is in the line of succession to succeed the governor, usually immediately behind the Lieutenant Governor. In those states with no Lieutenant Governor, such as Arizona, the Secretary of State is sometimes first in the line of succession in the event of a gubernatorial vacancy.

Currently, in 35 states, such as California, Illinois, and Mississippi, the Secretary of State is elected at the general election, usually for a four-year term. In others, the Secretary of State is appointed by the governor; Florida, Oklahoma, and Texas are amongst the states with this practice. In at least two states, the Secretary of State is elected by the state legislature; the General Assembly of Tennessee meets in joint convention to elect the Secretary of State to a four-year term, and the Maine Legislature also selects the Secretary of State, but to a two-year term.

Most Secretaries of State or those acting in such capability (with the exception of Wisconsin and Hawaii) belong to the National Association of Secretaries of State. The actual duties of a state’s Secretary of State vary greatly from state to state. In most states, the Secretary of State’s office is a creation of the original draft of the state constitution. However, in many cases responsibilities have been added by statute or executive order.

The most common, and arguably the most important, function held by Secretaries of State is to serve as the state’s chief elections official. In 38 states, ultimate responsibility for the conduct of elections, including the enforcement of qualifying rules, oversight of finance regulation, establishment of actual election-day procedures, falls on the Secretary of State. (Florida is one of the many states in which this is true, and for this reason Florida’s Secretary of State in 2000, Katherine Harris, became one of the few people holding this position to become known outside of her own state.). In the vast majority of states, the Secretary of State is also responsible for the administration of the Uniform Commercial Code, an act which provides for the uniform application of business contracts and practices across the United States, including the registration of liens on personal property.


US Congress

The United States Congress is the legislature of the federal government of the United States. It is bicameral, consisting of two houses, the Senate and the House of Representatives. The legislators in both are members of Congress, though usually only a representative is called a congressman, congresswoman, or congressperson. Both senators and representatives are chosen through direct election.

The House of Representatives has 435 voting members, with each member representing a congressional district and serving a two-year term. “House” seats are apportioned among the states on the basis of population. American Samoa, the District of Columbia, Guam, and the United States Virgin Islands send non-voting delegates to the House; Puerto Rico sends a non-voting Resident Commissioner who serves a four-year term; and the Northern Mariana Islands are not represented.

The Senate has 100 members serving staggered six-year terms. Each state has two senators, regardless of population. Every two years, approximately one-third of the Senate is elected.

The United States Constitution vests all legislative power to and in the Congress. While the House and Senate are generally equal partners in the legislative process (legislation cannot be enacted without the consent of both chambers), the Constitution grants each chamber unique powers unavailable to the other.


United States President

The President of the United States (sometimes abbreviated as POTUS) is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president is at the head of the executive branch of the federal government, whose role is to enforce national law as given in the Constitution and written by Congress. Article Two of the Constitution establishes the president as commander-in-chief of the armed forces and enumerates powers specifically granted to the president, including the power to sign into law or veto bills passed by both houses of Congress. The president also has the power to create a cabinet of advisors and to grant pardons or reprieves. Finally, with the “advice and consent” of the Senate, the president is empowered to make treaties and appoint federal officers ambassadors, and federal judges, including Justices of the Supreme Court. As with officials in the other branches of the United States government, the Constitution restrains the president with a set of checks and balances designed to prevent any individual or group from taking absolute power.

The president is elected indirectly through the United States Electoral College to a four year term, with a limit of two terms imposed by the Twenty-second Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1951. Under this system, each state is allocated a number of electoral votes, equal to the size of the state’s delegation in both houses of Congress combined. The District of Columbia is also granted electoral votes, per the Twenty-third Amendment to the Constitution. Voters in nearly all states choose a presidential candidate through the plurality voting system, who then receives all of that state’s electoral votes. A simple majority of electoral votes is needed to become president; if no candidate receives that many votes, the election is thrown to the House of Representatives, which votes by state delegation.


United States Secretary of State

The United States Secretary of State is the head of the United States Department of State, concerned with foreign affairs. The Secretary is a member of the President’s Cabinet. He or she is the highest ranked cabinet secretary both in line of succession and order of precedence.

Most of the non-original domestic functions of the Department of State have been transferred to other agencies. Those that remain in the Department are: storage and use of the Great Seal of the United States, performance of protocol functions for the White House, drafting of certain proclamations, formally accepting notice of the president’s resignation, and replies to inquiries. In addition, the Secretary performs such duties as the President is required, in accordance with the United States Constitution, relating to correspondence, commission, or instructions to U.S. or consuls abroad, and to conduct negotiations with foreign representatives. The Secretary has also served as principal adviser to the President in the determination of U.S. foreign policy and in recent decades has become responsible for overall direction, coordination, and supervision of interdepartmental activities of the U.S. Government overseas, excepting certain military activities.

As the highest-ranking Cabinet member, the Secretary of State is fourth in line to succeed the Presidency, after the Vice President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and President pro tempore of the Senate. (See United States presidential line of succession.) Federal law provides that resignation from the Presidency is effected only by written communication from the President to the Secretary of State. (3 U.S.C. Section 20).


United States Senate

The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral United States Congress, the lower house being the House of Representatives. In the Senate, each state is represented by two members. Membership is therefore based on the equal representation of each state, regardless of population, for a total membership of 100. Senators serve six-year terms that are staggered so elections are held for a third of the seats (a “class”) every second year.

The Senate is regarded as a more deliberative body than the House of Representatives; the Senate is smaller and its members serve longer terms, allowing for a more collegial and less partisan atmosphere that is somewhat more insulated from public opinion than the House. The Senate has several exclusive powers enumerated in Article One of the Constitution not granted to the House; most significantly, the President cannot ratify treaties or, with rare exception, make important appointments-most significantly ambassadors, members of the federal judiciary (including the Supreme Court) and members of the Cabinet-without the advice and consent of the Senate.

Article One of the Constitution states that each state is entitled to two senators. Originally, each state legislature selected their senators; but since the ratification of the 17th Amendment in 1913, senators have been directly elected. The Constitution further stipulates that no constitutional amendment may deprive a state of its equal suffrage in the Senate without the consent of the state concerned. The District of Columbia and territories are not entitled to any representation. As there are presently 50 states, the Senate has 100 members. The senator from each state with the longer tenure is known as the “senior senator,” and their counterpart is the “junior senator”; this convention, however, does not have any official significance.

Senators serve terms of six years each; the terms are staggered so that approximately one-third of the Senate seats are up for election every two years. The staggering of the terms is arranged such that both seats from a given state are never contested in the same general election. Senate elections are held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, Election Day, and coincide with elections for the House of Representatives.[2] Each senator is elected by his or her state as a whole. Generally, the Republican and Democratic parties choose their candidates in primary elections, which are typically held several months before the general elections. Ballot access rules for independent and third party candidates vary from state to state. For the general election, almost all states use simple plurality voting, under which the candidate with the most votes (not necessarily an absolute majority) wins. Exceptions include Louisiana, which use the two-round system. In some states, runoffs are held if no candidate wins a majority.


United States Vice President of the United States

The Vice President of the United States (sometimes referred to as VPOTUS or Veep) is the first in the presidential line of succession, becoming the new President of the United States upon the death, resignation, or removal of the president. As designated by the Constitution of the United States, the vice president also serves as the President of the Senate, and may break tie votes in that chamber.

The Twelfth Amendment to the United States Constitution requires the vice president to meet the same eligibility requirements as the president. That is, the vice president must be at least 35 years of age, have been born a citizen of the United States, and have been a resident of the U.S. for at least the 14 years preceding election.

The vice presidential candidates of the major national political parties are formally selected by each party’s quadrennial nominating convention, following the selection of their presidential candidates. The official process is identical to the one by which the presidential candidates are chosen, with delegates placing the names of candidates into nomination, followed by a ballot in which candidates must receive a majority to secure the party’s nomination. In practice, the presidential nominee has considerable influence on the decision, and in 20th century it became customary for that person to select a preferred running mate, who is then nominated and accepted by the convention. In recent years, with the presidential nomination usually being a foregone conclusion as the result of the primary process, the selection of a vice presidential candidate is often announced prior to the actual balloting for the presidential candidate, and sometimes before the beginning of the convention itself.

The informal roles and functions of the Vice President depend on the specific relationship between the President and the Vice President, but often include drafter and spokesperson for the administration’s policy, as an adviser to the president, as Chairman of the Board of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), as a Member of the board of the Smithsonian Institution, and as a symbol of American concern or support. Their influence in this role depends almost entirely on the characteristics of the particular administration.

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