A precinct is a space enclosed by the walls or other boundaries of a particular place or building, or by an arbitrary and imaginary line drawn around it. The term is often used to refer to a division of a police department in a large city (either to the neighborhood patrolled or to the police station itself). New York City uses the term "precinct" for its police stations. It is sometimes incorrectly used by non-Philadelphians to police stations of that city which are districts.
A precinct is generally the lowest-level governmentally-related division in the United States, and in that context is also known in some places as an election district. The US Census uses the term voting district. Precincts usually do not have separate governmental authorities, but in some states, including Ohio, the voters within a precinct may by initiative or referendum vote on liquor control laws that will be applicable only within that specific precinct (called "local option elections"). For purposes of conducting elections, an entity such as a county or township is typically subdivided into precincts and each address is assigned to a specific precinct. Each precinct has a specific location where its residents go to vote. Sometimes several precincts will use the same polling station. A 2004 survey by the United States Election Assistance Commission reported an average precinct size in the United States of approximately 1,100 registered voters. Kansas had the smallest average precinct size with 437 voters per precinct, while the District of Columbia had the largest average size at 2,704 voters per precinct.
Individuals, known by various titles such as precinct committeeman, precinct captain, or Precinct Committee Officer, are elected by ballot or county party executive committee, to represent precinct residents in every level of party operations. They represent how the voters in a precinct feel about candidates and issues, and encourage people to vote. In theory, a precinct would have at least two such individuals (one for the Republican Party and another for the Democratic Party), though in areas where one party is dominant only that party may have such an individual.
The Canadian equivalent of a precinct is known as a Poll. Canadian political parties do not have elections for positions representing the voters in a poll. Perhaps the closest equivalent is when parties assign volunteers to canvass a poll, or to be an outside scrutineer pulling the vote (i.e. reminding supporters to go to vote aka GOTV Get Out The Vote) on Election Day or an advance polling day, or to be an inside scrutineer in the polling station noting who has come to vote so that can be communicated to the outside scrutineer(s).
Wards of the City of London were historically sub-divided into precincts, with each precinct electing a Common Councilman (they were therefore effectively electoral districts). While the wards still remain, the precincts have been abolished.
In religion, precinct can refer to the ground (sometimes consecrated) immediately surrounding a religious house or place of worship.
In a number of English-speaking countries, such as the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, a shopping centre may also be known as a precinct, which refers to an enclosed public space with shops or department stores. A pedestrianised street or area of a town is sometimes called a pedestrian precinct.
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- "Geographic Terms and Concepts - Voting Districts". US Census Bureau. Retrieved 23 October 2013.
- "Polling Places 2004 General Election". EAC Election Day Survey. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Archived from the original on December 14, 2006.
- A Guide to State and Local Census Geography. U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, Bureau of the Census. 1993. p. 43.