Word of the Day


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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


the process of voting secretly to choose a candidate in an election or express an opinion about an issue

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The noun and verb ballot both date from the mid 16th century and are borrowed from French ‘ballotte’ or Italian ‘ballotta’. Both words mean ‘a small ball’ and the term ballot originally referred to one of these balls, or the placing of them in a container to register a secret vote.


The noun ballot refers both to the process of voting, to a particular vote (‘a strike ballot’) and to the number of votes cast. It also refers to a piece of paper where you indicate your vote; this is also called a ballot paper. Ballot occurs in a number of other compounds, including ballot rigging, trigger ballot and ballot box. A ballot box is a physical box in which you put your ballot paper after you have voted; it also refers to the democratic system of voting. Ballot is also a verb: to ballot people is to ask them to vote in order to decide an issue. The Doge, or ruler, of the Venetian Republic was for hundreds of years elected by the republic’s most prominent families using a convoluted system of repeated ballots, at least one of which involved the drawing of balls from a container. The system was designed to avoid undue influence being exerted by any single family or grouping.


“The ballot box is the surest arbiter of disputes among free men.”
(James Buchanan, US President)

“The ballot is stronger than the bullet.”
(Abraham Lincoln)

Related words

abstention, poll, polling booth, tactical voting

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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