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In the legal and colloquial sense, poll is frequently used in the context of elections. In this context, poll refers to either 1) the process of voting, 2) the place where the voting is conducted, or 3) the result of the voting. With respect to national elections such as the presidential and congressional races, various organizations such as the Pew Research Center will survey public opinion before the election to get a better sense of the outcome. FiveThiryEight is one website that compiles and analyzes the data collected by these various organizations.

In the legal sense, poll is also used in the context of juries in criminal cases. In federal court, Rule 31 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure allows any party or the court to request a poll, or survey, of the jurors after the jury returns the verdict and before the jury is discharged. The court decides the manner of polling the jury. However, as the court in Government of the Virgin Islands v. Hercules stated, courts cannot simply rely on the jurors’ signatures on the verdict slip. Because the jury poll aims to ensure that the jury reached a unanimous verdict free from coercion, the manner of polling the jury must give jurors the opportunity to declare their agreement or disagreement with the verdict in open court.

Other common legal phrases that use the term “poll” include:

  • States used to impose “poll taxes” on their residents. Residents were required to pay a fixed tax to vote. The 24th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibited poll taxes.
  • A “straw poll” is a nonbinding vote.

The fundamental ability of a polity to enact laws to coerce its citizenry for the public good, although the term eludes an exact definition.

[Last updated in December of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]