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[Burning Issue] US and Indian Election System: A Comparison

India and the US are the two largest democracies in the world but the electoral systems of the two countries are poles apart. While the Indian system is charmingly simple, the US system is extremely complex and confusing. Let’s have a look at that:

A Brief about the US parliamentary system

  • The senate of the US is the upper house of the legislature. This senate, together with the United States House of Representatives forms the United States Congress.
  • The Senate has several powers, which include confirming appointments of federal judges, cabinet secretaries, other federal officials, military officials and ambassadors.
  • The Senate is also known as the world’s greatest deliberative body.

Must read:

The Process to become POTUS

(1) Primary and Caucuses

Before the general election, most candidates for president go through a series of state primaries and caucuses. Though primaries and caucuses are run differently, they both serve the same purpose. They let the states choose the major political parties’ nominees for the general election.

  • In general, primaries use secret ballots for voting. Caucuses are local gatherings of voters who vote at the end of the meeting for a particular candidate.
  • Then it moves to nominating conventions, during which political parties each select a nominee to unite behind.

(2) National Convention

After the primaries and caucuses, most political parties hold national conventions.

  • Conventions finalize a party’s choice for presidential and vice-presidential nominees. To become the presidential nominee, a candidate typically has to win a majority of delegates.
  • This usually happens through the party’s primaries and caucuses. It’s then confirmed through a vote of the delegates at the national convention.
  • But if no candidate gets the majority of a party’s delegates during the primaries and caucuses, convention delegates choose the nominee. This happens through additional rounds of voting.
  • The candidates then campaign across the country to explain their views and plans to voters. They may also participate in debates with candidates from other parties.

(3) Electoral College

  • When Americans go to the polls in presidential elections they’re actually voting for a group of officials who make up the electoral college.
  • ‘Electoral College’ is the term given to the body of individuals who are selected or elected to be “electors”.
  • These electors then vote for the president and vice president of the US.
  • The electoral college meets every four years, a few weeks after election day, to carry out that task.
  • To win, a presidential candidate has to just attain a simple majority of 270 electoral votes.

How does it work?

  • The number of electors from each state is roughly in line with the size of its population.
  • Each state gets as many electors as it has lawmakers in the US Congress (representatives in the House and senators).
  • California has the most electors – 55 – while a handful of sparsely populated states like Wyoming, Alaska and North Dakota (and Washington DC) have the minimum of three.
  • There are 538 electors in total.
  • Each elector represents one electoral vote, and a candidate needs to gain a majority of the votes – 270 or more – to win the presidency.

Electing the ‘Electors’

  • Unlike India, it’s not just one election but a bunch of simultaneous elections in the US.
  • In many states, a voter will be choosing not just the US president but 20 different contestants on a single ballot.
  • These include the member of the US Senate and the House of Representatives, state senate, governor, state attorney general, Supreme Court judge, among others.

Election Management

  • There is no centralised election management body like the Election Commission in India.
  • All 50 states, and within these, more than 3,000 counties have different management bodies.
  • The date of the election is fixed — the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November — since 1845.

(4)General Elections

  • The General Election refers to the voting process in which every US citizen who is at least 18 years of age can vote to chose the President.
  • Unlike in most elections, the person who becomes president is not necessarily the candidate who wins the most votes on Election Day.
  • Instead, voting for the president of the United States takes place in two-steps.
  • First, voters cast ballots on Election Day in each state.
  • In nearly every state, the candidate who gets the most votes wins the “electoral votes” for that state, and gets that number of voters (or “electors”) in the “Electoral College.”
  • Second, the “electors” from each of the 50 states gather in December and they vote for president.
  • The person who receives a majority of votes from the “Electoral College” becomes President.

Winning the elections

  • To win the US presidential election, one needs 270 electoral college votes, an absolute majority of the 538 electors.
  • The complexity of the election process and the multiplicity of authorities is a perfect breeding ground for confusion.
  • This, however, is perhaps the first time that a candidate — Donald Trump — has cast aspersions on the legitimacy of the election even before the first vote has been cast.

A comparison with India

(1) Election Management

  • There is no centralised election management body like the Election Commission in India.
  • All 50 states, and within these, more than 3,000 counties have different management bodies.
  • The date of the election is fixed — the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November — since 1845.

(2) Electorates

  • Unlike India, it’s not just one election but a bunch of simultaneous elections in the US.
  • In many states, a voter will be choosing not just the US president but 20 different contestants on a single ballot.
  • These include the member of the US Senate and the House of Representatives, state senate, governor, state attorney general, Supreme Court judge, among others.

(3) Political parties

  • The most important aspect of the difference between electoral process in India and USA comes from the nature of their party systems.
  • It is common knowledge that there are two dominant parties in the USA political scene with polar different ideologies, viz. the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.
  • Although the Libertarian Party, Green Party, and other smaller parties exist, they are considered to be independent entities as they are outliers and cannot quite compete with the two major ones.
  • India, however, has many parties that operate on the state level and only a few that successfully operate on the national level.

(4) Electoral College

  • The onus to register as a voter lies on the voter and it is neither compulsory to register nor to vote.
  • The last date for registration varies from one month prior to the poll to the same day (polling day).
  • Any person turning 18 even on polling day is eligible to register.
  • The voter identification system varies too — from different photo identity proofs to self-authentication without a photo.

(5) Voting systems

  • The voting systems are diverse — voting at polling stations on poll day, early voting in person, absentee voting by mail.
  • The ballot design varies from state to state. Voting technology varies from direct recording electronic voting machines (like Indian EVMs) to paper ballots (marked by pencil or pen).
  • But scanning is invariably used to facilitate counting. Some states have the VVPAT — Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail.
  • The hours of voting are longer — 13 hours — as compared to minimum eight hours (usually nine) in India.

(6) Voters’ turnout

  • The turnout in the last presidential election was 61.8 per cent (compared to India’s 66.8 per cent). With low registration, this effectively means that less than 45 per cent of eligible Americans voted.
  • Voting demographics show that older people — 65 plus — tend to vote more than 18-24 year-olds by as much as 25 percentage points.
  • People with more education and income vote more than the less endowed.
  • Similarly, women vote in larger numbers. Blacks and Hispanics vote less because of lack of interest.

(7) Election regulation

  • The US has two federal bodies — the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and the US Election Assistance Commission (EAC).
  • But both of them together do not add up to anything as powerful or effective as the EC in India.
  • In fact, they have no control over the election administration. Its role is confined to federal campaign finance regulations.
  • The EAC was created back only in 2002 to provide funding to states for upgrading their registration and voting systems besides establishing minimum voter identification standards. Its decisions are, however, not binding.

References

https://www.usa.gov/election#item-212585

https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/us-presidential-elections-hillary-clinton-donald-trump-india-election-system-4030161/

https://www.ndtv.com/world-news/10-point-guide-to-us-election-and-how-its-different-from-india-1622424

https://www.indiatoday.in/news-analysis/story/donald-trump-joe-biden-us-presidential-election-america-india-election-commission-1738184-2020-11-05

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