How is the American voting system? Is the voting secret or open?
Do people need to identify themselves as belonging to a particular
party? Going further, am I allowed to vote for Republicans if I
"belong" to Democrats.
Why did Kamala Harris and Tulsi Gabbard debate each other even though
they belong to same party?
Voters can register as members of a party, or can register as unaffiliated with a party. Members of a party are allowed to participate in primary elections and in some states, caucuses which are intraparty elections to determine who will represent the party in the general election and who will serve as its party officials.
Some states have open primaries in which anyone can vote in any party's primary. Some states allow unaffiliated voters to vote in the primary of their choice, but not not people affiliated with another party on their voter registration.
No U.S. political party has any meaningful authority to vet candidates for elected offices in their own party. This is determined by rank and file voters in a primary or caucus process instead.
You can vote for whomever you want in the general election, even if it is different from your voter registration, and no one would ever know because it is a secret ballot.
Intraparty unity and party discipline isn't as strong in the U.S. as it is in countries with a Westminster style parliamentary system modeled on England, like India. This is because the head of government at the federal and state and county levels (and sometimes at the municipal level) is elected separately by the voters from the legislature which passes laws but doesn't play a role in directly choosing officials to administer those laws.
In the U.S. system all that matters in terms of unity at the legislative level is whether a majority can be put together to support a particular law or a particular executive branch nomination of an executive branch or judicial branch official.
There have been times in U.S. history when the two main political parties mask a more complex system. When I was young, there were Republicans, Northern Democrats and Southern Democrats. Southern Democrats voted with Republicans on legislation that was socially conservative and for more defense spending and more aggressive foreign policy, while Southern Democrats voted with Northern Democrats on economic policy. But, this didn't last and eventually we reached the modern situation with one more liberal and one more conservative political party.
Why do other parties never debate? TV channels show only Trump and
Biden. Also, why do they never win?
The party with an incumbent candidate, if there is one, often doesn't have an intraparty debate even if their is nominally some other candidate running. Debates are held at the primary/caucus stage only in races that are contested.
Debates are optional and are held by agreement of the candidates in a particular race, although they are common. They are events that allow the media and the public to get to know candidates better. Basically, they are structured group interviews for an elected office. The winner or loser of the entire process is determined on election day.
What is the eligibility for other parties to contest? In wiki, there
was the map of America with colours designating where third parties
contested. Why not all states?
In the U.S. elections are administered by state governments, not the federal government and that includes rules for forming and recognizing political parties. The rules for getting on the ballot are content neutral - the same for far right parties as for any other party.
In practice, the first past the post, single member district system of electing elected officials strongly discourages third-party formation, because in that system third-parties have a spoiler effect that hurts the more viable party most similar in ideology to their own. Getting people to vote for a third-party and getting informed people to support on is the barrier, not ballot access to any great extent. Minor parties do have to cross ballot access hurdles, but those are typically barriers primarily because most third-parties are so marginal to start with and almost never win electoral contests.
One last question, in India we vote for MLAs and that determines chief
minister of the state. We vote for MPs and that determines the prime
How many elections are there in America? I read Kamala Harris is a
senator. How can she contest for VP when she's already a senator? So,
when one votes in a state, are they voting for Trump/Biden and
Harris/Pence or senators of the state?
Usually when elected officials run for a higher office, they don't resign while serving in the old office. But they generally run for only one office per election.
At the national level the elected offices are President/Vice President (on a single ticket in the same party), U.S. Senate (two per state, one-third elected to six year terms per year plus vacancy elections), and U.S. House (the number of seats per state is based upon population per state every two years in each single member district). All of these races are run with nominees of political parties with the Democratic Party and Republican Party winning all but about 0.1% of the seats or more.
So, when one votes in a state, are they voting for Trump/Biden and
Harris/Pence or senators of the state?
In a Presidential race, the ballot says Trump/Pence, Biden/Harris, and a variety of third party tickets. In every state except Maine and Nebraska, the ticket getting the most votes in the state on that ballot gets to appoint all of the electoral college delegates for that state (who almost always vote for the ticket that nominated them). In Maine and Nebraska, the ticket getting the most votes in each Congressional district gets one electoral college delegate appointment and the ticket getting the most votes in the state gets two bonus electoral college delegate appointments. The winner of the election is the person who gets a majority of electoral college delegate votes (special rules apply in rare cases when there is a tie or when no ticket receives a majority of the electoral college delegate votes).
Another fine point is that in the U.S. government at the national level, the Vice President resolves all tie votes in the U.S. Senate, effectively serving as an ex offico U.S. Senator (but without the same debate and bill introducing authority) as a U.S. Senator for a constituency of one (the President).
Apart from the electoral college, which is close to a direct election in effect except that it now and then elects a Republican who doesn't win the popular vote (historically most electoral college winners who have not won the popular vote have been Republicans), all other elected offices are filled by a direct popular vote of the voters in the district that elects the official in the general election from nominees chosen in the primary/caucus process.
Usually those direct elections declare the winner to be the person getting the most votes (or ticket in the case of Governors). But, Maine uses ranked choice voting in those elections, and several states require a majority of the vote to win and have a runoff election between the top two finishers if no one receives a first round majority. Louisiana and California also have unusual systems that blend the primary and general election stages.
The next lower level is state government. In every state but Nebraska (which has a unicameral non-partisan state legislature), there is a bicameral legislature with a lower and more numerous house elected to two year terms from single member districts drawn by population, and an upper house that is less numerous usually elected for four year terms with half elected every two years from single members districts with districts voting only every four years.
In most states the Governor of a state is elected on a ticket with a Lieutenant Governor for a four year term, but a few states have a two year term. Usually this election is held in the even numbered year that the Presidential election is not being held, but some states elect the Governor in a Presidential election year and some do so in an odd numbered year.
Every state has at least one other statewide executive branch elected official and most have several more, usually elected at the same time as the Governor. A state attorney-general, a state treasurer and a secretary of state who mostly administers elections are most common. These races are almost always between partisan nominees.
Sometimes there are additional statewide elected boards in a state (Colorado elects the state board of education and the governing body of the main state college system that way). Many states elect some or all state court judges on a non-partisan basis as well.
Below the state level is county government which often has a partisan elected board of commissioners (often three or five members) and many elected executive branch officers such as a sheriff, a coroner, a county clerk, a county treasurer, and a district attorney (who prosecutes crimes). These bodies have only modest legislative authority but carry out state functions like keeping court houses and real property records running and providing law enforcement in rural areas.
Below the county level there are school boards, municipalities, towns or townships, and sometimes "special districts" that, for example, run a water and sewer system or a library system separate from a general purpose government. Some have elected officials, some have appointed officials. Large cities tend to have partisan city councils and mayors but some are non-partisan. Smaller cities tend to have non-partisan city councils and mayors, as do school boards and special districts.
There is an election every November (the first Tuesday after the first Monday of the month which is always the Tuesday closest to Guy Faux day). There are primary elections several months before every partisan even numbered election year, and sometimes in odd numbered years in some states. Sometimes there are additional elections for local governments or for vacancy elections.
The general November election held in even numbered years, in almost every U.S. state and simultaneously at the federal level, elects all members of the lower house of the legislature (the U.S. federal government and every state government except Nebraska is bicameral like India at the national level), roughly one-third of U.S. Senators, and usually either half or one-third of members of the upper house of state legislatures.
A Presidential election with a President-VP ticket from each contending political party is held every other even numbered year (2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016, 2020, 2024, etc.) for a four year term. The primary/caucus elections are held at different times in different states, starting in late January and ending in early summer, leading up to a national convention that determines an outcome based upon the various primary and caucus results in Presidential races usually in August some time.
Most states reserve odd numbered years for local government elections like school boards and municipal governments. But, some of those elections aren't held in November at all (in Denver, where I live, City government elections are held in May). Many local governments below the county level in the U.S. don't have political parties. Local governments don't always have the same voting rules as state governments. For example, in state level elections, you just need to get the most votes to win in a general election for a single member district, while in the City and County of Denver, you need a majority to win and there is a runoff election between the top two candidates is no one candidate receives a majority.
Most general elections in November in most states, and some elections at other times of the year, also have ballot issues. These are most common in the West. This allows for up and down votes on specific legislative or constitutional amendment proposals.
Collectively, this means that November election ballots in even numbered years are very long. Usually there are five to ten partisan candidate races, half a dozen or more non-partisan candidate races, and several to a dozen or more ballot issues at the same time in those elections. And, usually in those years there is at least one primary election or caucus and sometimes as many as three or four of them in advance of the November general election in the same state.
For example, a typical voter in Douglas County, Colorado in 2016 voted for ten partisan candidates (President, U.S. Senate, U.S. House, and seven partisan state and local government elected offices), five non-partisan non-judicial candidates, voted on whether to retain or remove from office seventeen different non-partisan judges ranging from small claims court judges to state supreme court judges, voted on ten state ballot issues, and on one local ballot issue. In all, a typical Colorado voter in the November 2016 election in suburban Denver voted in 43 different contests on the same ballot (the sample ballot has some races that are inconsistent because the county is not entirely in a single legislative district and has more than one municipality, but there is no double counting in the list of 43 contests).
My own ballot this year in Denver, Colorado has 47 contests to vote on.