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Federal election dictionary: Helping you navigate terms in lead up to Sept. 20

Last Updated Sep 8, 2021 at 11:18 am PDT

An Elections Canada 'vote' sign in Toronto on Oct. 21, 2019. 680 NEWS/Kevin Misener
Summary

From 'dropping the writ' to holding a 'stump speech', there are many terms and phrases to know before election day

Election day in Canada is Sept. 20

OTTAWA – What’s a writ and why do they drop it at the start of an election campaign?

With the federal election race underway, there may be some words and terms that make no sense to you. We’re here to help you navigate the campaign lingo.

When it comes to the “writ,” there isn’t just one — there are 338, one for each riding in Canada.

And despite the common phrase, a writ is not “dropped,” it’s signed by the chief electoral officer. It’s actually an official piece of paper that notifies ridings of the election period.

When they have a winner, their name is written on the back and returned to Elections Canada.

So what about “hitting the hustings“? Originally, a husting was a platform where candidates would give speeches, but now it more commonly refers to any event where they are speaking or interacting with voters.

On that note, you may hear candidates are “making a whistle stop.” That’s old train language, but in politics, it means a candidate is making a brief appearance somewhere, usually hitting up multiple locations in a short amount of time.

On election day, you may hear the term “first past the post.” That’s basically our voting system. It’s a horse race term to say the first to cross the finish line wins. In our elections, the winner doesn’t need a majority of votes, just the highest number out of all the candidates.


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A “stump speech” is a rehearsed speech that a candidate repeats at different stops along the campaign trail, usually one that drives home the main messaging and fires up the crowd. It got its name from when politicians used to give speeches on tree stumps.

An “advance poll” is a set of four days in which some voting stations are set up in ridings ahead of election day to allow people to mark their ‘X’ if they already know who they’re voting for. In this election, advance polls open Sept. 10.

A “voter ID card” is something Elections Canada sends to all registered voters. It can be used as one of the two pieces of ID you need to cast a ballot.

And here’s one you’ll likely hear a lot in the lead up to Sept. 20: “special ballot.” This is normally for people who can’t make it to their riding for election day. Typically, they are mailed in and you don’t mark an ‘X’ — you write in the name of your candidate of choice. Due to COVID-19, special ballots are available to all Canadians and it’s expected up to 5 million people will vote by mail.