A (n American) person I follow on Twitter–no names–just used “by-election” to refer to the recent Congressional race in upstate New York.
My work here is done.
Many English place-names end in “by”. Scawby, Selby etc. It means village or farmstead. A by-election therefore simply means a small local election.
To correct the above, I believe that by-election is what Americans refer to as a ‘mid-term’ election.
Actually, it would be more precise to say that it means what Americans call a “special election.” Since American presidents are elected every four years and members of the House every two, a “midterm election” is the regularly scheduled House (and one-third of the Senate, and also many state governors) election held in a presidential off year. A “special election” is one held outside the cycle because of death, resignation, appointment to a different office, etc. by an incumbent.
I think that is correct – in Canada a by-election would correspond to the American special election, and Canada models its political system on the British.
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