How is the President of the United States of America elected

  • How is the U.S. President elected? Article compares the governance structure of U.S. and India? What constitutes the U.S. Congress and how are its members elected.

The first debate between two candidates for President i.e. Biden and Trump took place a few days ago. Really like this concept of debates. The better and more well-informed speaker usually makes an impact.


This article seeks to tell how the U.S. President is elected.


How did I compile this piece? Friends who lived in the U.S. and since returned got me started. Once I framed the questions searched for answers online. Then gave how elections work in India and differences in governance structure between the two countries. Lastly, I got another friend to vet the draft post.


One of the significant differences between the US and India is the form of democracy. While the US has a republican democracy, India has a Westminster (parliamentary system adopted from the British) style one. Read more here 


Q&A 1 to 6 gives background and differences between USA and India. Q&A 7 to 13 tells how the President is elected. Q&A 14-15 has the details.


1. How did America become U.S.A?

USA has 50 states and the district of Columbia.  48 states are contiguous. Alaska is next to Canada. Hawaii is an archipelago in the central Pacific Ocean. To know names of each state

U.S.A. got its states from British colonies and increased its land mass through war, purchase, agreements etc. Read on


The United States emerged from the Thirteen British Colonies established along the East Coast. Disputes with Great Britain representation led to the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), which established the nation's independence. Source Land acquired from France by the Louisiana Purchase (1803) nearly doubled the country’s territory.

U.S. bought Florida east and west from Spain, annexed Texas in 1845, acquired Oregon Territory from Britain in 1846,  Mexican Cession purchased from Mexico following military victory in 1848, Gadsden purchased from Mexico in 1853, Alaska purchased from Russia in 1867, Annexation of Hawaiian Islands in 1898 and Midway Islands in 1867 and so on. Source  Read Annexation of Texas  And Annexation of Hawai 1898  Ten U.S. States that were once part of Mexcio Source 

Conversely, India has 28 states and 8 Union Territories. Like USA the British ruled India. There were areas administered by the British and Indian Rulers for e.g. Baroda, Mysore, Udaipur and Travancore. In 1947 India was formed by merger of all the princely states and those areas directly under British rule e.g. Bombay Presidency. Indian states were re-organised to meet regional aspirations and for administrative purposes. However, culture is at the root of Indian nationhood


2. A few key differences between U.S. and Indian States

In the U.S. every state has its own flag  and Constitution unlike India.


A Governor in the U.S. is “chief officer in their state. They function as the head of State government, therefore overseeing the proper functioning of the state. Additionally, many governors have significant influence over the legislature and judiciary, being able to veto state bills, appoint judges and in some states having either some or complete control over the ability to pardon a criminal sentence.” Most have terms of four years. Governors are elected as also the attorney generals. Source


In U.S.A. Governors are like the Chief Ministers of India and similar to the President in Washington. Both the President and the Governors are head of the executive branch of the US and states, respectively.


In India the Governor is appointed by the President, does not have a fixed term and the powers as in the U.S. It is a titular post. Read Constitutional and Statutory Duties of the Governor of Texas


Powers not granted to the Federal government are reserved for States in the U.S. Source unlike India where there is State, Union and Concurrent List.


3.  Income-Tax USA

In U.S.A. individuals pay income-tax to the state and federal governments. States like Alaska, Texas and Florida have no state income-tax. F urther, the income-tax rates vary across states unlike India where one income-tax rate is applicable and payable to the Central government. Tax exemptions exist for certain categories of Scheduled Tribes including those who have converted. To read briefly on taxes in USA


4. How do the U.S. and Indian system of government and representatives differ?

The U.S., unlike India, has a presidential form of governance where the President is the Head of the State and Government. Conversely, India has a Parliamentary system with a Prime Minister and President.

The USA has two houses i.e. the House of Representatives and the Senate. Just like India have the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.  

In the U.S. the Senate is the Upper house. Senators serve 6 year terms in the country and are elected by the people. Conversely, in India members of the Rajya Sabha have five year terms and are elected by their respective parties. 


Members of the House of Representatives serve two year terms and hence elections take place every two years. These elections are important for the next two years of the reign of the President, since the people have the power to strengthen or weaken the power of the President by choosing candidates from either party as members of House of Representatives. Conversely, in India the term for the Lok Sabha is for five years so there is no check on the party in power.


Each state has exactly two representatives in the Senate regardless of its size and population.

There is more to India than the Taj-West. 

5. What is the United States Congress?

The U.S. Congress consists of the House of Representatives and Senate.


The House of Representatives is made up of 435 elected members, divided among the 50 states in proportion to their total population. The presiding officer of the chamber is the Speaker of the House, elected by the Representatives. He or she is third in the line of succession to the Presidency.” Source


This is the equivalent of India’s Lok Sabha. 


The Senate is composed of 100 Senators, 2 for each state. They are chosen by popular vote for six years terms by people of each. “Senators’ terms are staggered so that about one-third of the Senate is up for re-election every two years. The Vice President of the United States serves as President of the Senate.” Source  This is the equivalent of India’s Rajya Sabha. 


6. USA has a State system like India but with a difference

In USA Governors are elected directly by the people. “All 50 States have legislatures made up of elected representatives, who consider matters brought forth by the governor or introduced by its members to create legislation that becomes law. The legislature also approves a State’s budget and initiates tax legislation and articles of impeachment.” Source It is called ‘House of Representatives or Assembly.’ The smaller upper house is called the ‘Senate’.


States have their own constitution unlike India that has one constitution.


All states have Executive, Judiciary and Legislature. Powers not granted to the Federal Government are divided between the State and local governments.


“State judicial branches are usually led by the State supreme court, which hears appeals from lower-level State courts. Court structures and judicial appointments/elections are determined either by legislation or the State constitution. The Supreme Court focuses on correcting errors made in lower courts and therefore holds no trials. When questions are raised regarding consistency with the U.S. Constitution, matters may be appealed directly to the United States Supreme Court.” 5


“Local governments generally include two tiers: counties, and municipalities, or cities/towns. In general, mayors, city councils, and other governing bodies are directly elected by the people.” 5


Conversely, in India people in a state elect members to the state assembly who in turn elect a head of that state or Chief Minister. The governor, a titular head, is appointed by the Central government. Legislation is brought in by the Chief Minister and becomes law only when signed by the Governor and in some cases by the President.


India too has local bodies but going by the results, they do not seem to be as empowered and effective as their counterparts in USA.


In India the Supreme Court conducts trials, appoints judges to the Higher Judiciary and is accountable to itself! It is also a Constitutional court.


US Supreme Court judges are appointed by the President. It requires approval from the Senate. There are cases when SC appointees do not get confirmed.


Fyi Donald Trump is a Republican and Joe Biden a Democrat.


7. Here is an Overview of the President Election Process

Elections are to be held on November 5, 2024. Brief steps from U.S. govt site


1. Up to spring of election year-Primary and Caucus debates.

2. January-June of election year-States and parties hold primaries and caucuses.

3. July to early September-Parties choose their Presidential candidate and Vic-President mate.

4. September and October – Presidential Debates. 

5. Early November - Election Day.

6. December – Electors cast their vote for President. 


President and VP are not directly elected by U.S. voters but are elected by the Electoral College.


8. Give me a simpler and local view of how the U.S. President is elected?

President is elected by an electoral college. Therefore, popular vote has limited value. If a President candidate wins a state then he is awarded certain number of electoral college votes depending on the size/population of the state. However, this depends on the state law/constitution. Some states have winner-takes-all laws. 


The candidate has to win 270 electoral college votes. About 180-220 of these are guaranteed for each party candidate.  Only 60 votes distributed between 5 or 6 states are called swing states. Therefore, the main election campaign takes place only in these states that can swing either way and practically these 5 or 6 states decide who will be the president.


The U.S. has too many variables by state unlike India that has one law for all states across the country.


9. How does the Electoral College elect the U.S. president?

“Each state gets as many electors as it has members of Congress (House and Senate). Each state’s political parties choose their own slate of potential electors. Who is chosen to be an elector, how, and when varies by state.” No consistency of rules across USA. Steps are -


1. “After you cast your ballot for president, your vote goes to a state wide tally. 

2. A candidate needs the vote of at least 270 electors—more than half of all electors—to win the presidential election

3. While the Constitution does not require electors to vote for the candidate chosen by their state's popular vote, some states do. The rare elector who votes for someone else may be fined, disqualified and replaced by a substitute elector, or potentially even prosecuted by their state.” Source


In an indirect way, U.S. voters elect their President. True.  

Conversely, in India political parties fight elections to the Lok Sabha (House of People) for which there are constituencies across India. Voters elect members of the Lok Sabha who in turn elect the Prime Minister. India does not follow the Presidential form of government although in the last decade or so the Prime Ministerial candidate is declared by an alliance before the elections. Without being explicit, the election is between two candidates for Prime Minister’s post. 


10. Who conducts elections in USA?

The Central or Federal government has a limited say in how elections are run. Each state decides how elections are run. They can decide how many voting booths and where the voting booths are, when advance voting can start, etc. The actual operation of conducting the election is left to the county i.e. the equivalent of district in India. So counties have a lot of sway in how elections actually get conducted.


Does USA have a Central Election Commission? There is a Federal Election Commission but its role is different from India’s Election Commission. However, most states have their own rules on how to conduct election elect delegates, etc. This makes the system complex. 


Conversely, in India the conduct of elections is done by the Central Election Commission with the help of State Commissions. The state or local government have limited role. In fact, a Model Code of Conduct comes into force once election dates are announced.   


11. Voting in USA through Ballots or Machines

Both. Some machines are like scanners. You mark your choices on a ballot paper and scan. Others are where make you choices on a computer screen.                                 


Conversely, in India voting is done through Electronic Voting Machines.

There is more to India than the Taj-South. 

12. How does mail-in-voting work?

According to this August 2020 Indian Express report, “While every state offers mail-in voting, their rules differ. Some states allow mail-in voting in special circumstances only. These circumstances include illness, injury, disability or being a student at an out-of-state college or university. Once local election authorities have received such a request, they will send a ballot to the address of the voter after vetting the application. The voter then casts their vote and signs the envelope and mails the ballot back to the election authorities.” Some states have allowed absentee voting for all, perhaps due to the pandemic.


A big plus in India is that individual states cannot frame their own rules for elections and voting unlike the U.S. 


13.  Comparative numbers of USA and India




1.Number of Eligible Voters

16.14 crore

96.80 crore

2. Ballot or EVM



3. Number of Voting Booths


10.5 lakhs

4. Polling in Stipulated Areas


Held on Same day


Point 4 - Yes, for in-person voting there are designated voting places. Mail-in ballots can be mailed or can be dropped off in designated drop boxes. 

According to, some U.S. states use electronic devices whilst others use paper ballots. Also read this April 2023 report  To know    about Absentee voting and voting by mail

There is more to India than the Taj-East. 

For details read on.


14. What is the system of Primaries and Caucuses?

In USA there are only two major parties. Voters are required to register as Democrat, Republican or Neither (Independent). However, registration as a Democrat or Republican is not a requirement in every state. Read more here . Conversely, voters do not register by party in India but only as voters.


Within both parties there is a system called primaries where the registered voters select who will be party's nominee for the election. Party bosses do have powers to push money towards favoured candidates and hence have influence.


“Several states hold caucuses in the months leading up to a presidential election. Caucuses are meetings run by political parties that are held at the county, district, or precinct level.” Candidates are chosen by secret ballot. “Each candidate’s group gives speeches and tries to get others to join their group. At the end, the number of delegates given to each candidate is based on the number of caucus votes they received.” Source “The number of delegates awarded to each candidate in a primary or caucus is based on a complex set of rules. These rules vary by state, and are set by the political parties at both a national and state level. Once delegates are selected, they go on to represent their state at national party conventions.” Source


Simply said, “In the US, election primaries are the process of selecting party candidates for the general elections, including the party’s gubernatorial and presidential nomination. The caucus is a system where faithful party members gather in small community groups. Post speeches from delegates and party surrogates, the gathering votes.” 


Parties may have their own way of nominating candidates but they need to be certified by the state commission.


Importance of Delegates - Delegates elect the president, not the voters. After the voting, the Electoral College meets and officially elects the president. The popular votes received are immaterial. In recent times, both Bush Jr. and Trump lost in popular votes. But this is like saying BJP only got 36% of the votes. 


15. Who draws the Constituencies?

About every ten years the legislature, at the state level, draws the constituencies. Sometimes these are drawn in strange manner to maximize chances of the party in power. This creates a lot of safe districts. Only app 60 congressional house seats are actually competitive.


At the Senate (Rajya Sabha) level each state is given 2 seats. Large and tiny states each get 2 seats. To read a good article on republicanism


U.S. is a republic. It has universal adult voting rights for all legal US citizens.


Conversely, in India constituencies are drawn up by the Central Election Commission and not the legislature.  Every voter’s share is equal. 


Clearly, the complexity involved in holding Indian elections is far more. In 2024, over 55 lakh EVM’s were used and 150 lakh polling officials on duty nationwide and 10.5 lakh polling stations were established, all to enable 9650 lakh voters to exercise their duty to vote. Source


It is because democracy is ingrained into Indians that the Transfer of Power, i.e. post Lok Sabha elections for the Central government (federal), from one political party to another has happened smoothly numerous times.


Utmost care is taken in culling out data. Errors if any are without intent or malafide intent. In case of errors please mail with source links. This article must not be republished without permission of esamskriti.



1. Comparing State of Democracy in India and USA

2. Indian is a Union of States not a Federation like USA

3. US Census

4. Inheritance and Estate Tax are different taxes in USA

5. State and Local Government – White House


Also read

1. Democrats and U.S. primaries

2. Key statistics U.S. 2024 elections

3. How India’s polling stations work

4. Counting of Votes

5. What is the controversy about EVM’s in the U.S.

6. Why America is debating mail-in-ballots

7. Does postal ballot lead to fraud

8. Does vote by mail increase fraud

9. Concept of Elections and Democracy in Vedas and Dharma Sastras

10. Human Rights in Sanatana Dharma

11. How Democracy evolved in India

12. How Election Commission organised 2024 Lok Sabha Polls


Note - Donald Trump/George Bush/Richard Nixon belongs to the Republican Party and Joe Biden/B Obama/Bill Clinto/Jimmy Carter belong to the Democratic Party.

Receive Site Updates