Germany is a democracy. Political power may only be held for a temporary period and with the consent of the people. Elected lawmakers represent the country’s citizens in the Bundestag, Germany’s lower house of parliament. Elections allow you to play a part in deciding which political parties have the most influence and thus make it possible for you to have a say on what happens in the country.
It’s important to remember that choosing not to vote also has an effect on the outcome of the election as it leaves the decision to others. Not voting means not being able to have a say on which issues should be considered relevant in the future.
General: All citizens of the Federal Republic of Germany who are aged 18 or over may cast their vote in the Bundestagswahl (Bundestag election).
Direct: Voters elect the members of the Bundestag (the local candidates and political parties) directly. There is no intermediate body.
Free: Voters may freely decide for whom to cast their ballot. They may not be influenced or put under pressure to vote for a specific party or individual.
Equal: Every person’s vote carries the same weight. It does not matter if an individual is financially better or less well off, has a high or basic level of education or holds a prominent position.
Secret: Voters do not have to tell anyone whom they have voted for. Ballot boxes and polling booths are there to ensure a person’s vote remains secret.
Casting your two votes
You will need to place two crosses on your ballot paper. One is your Erststimme or first vote. This is where you select a candidate for one of the 299 constituencies in Germany. In other words, you vote directly for one candidate from your region, who, should they receive enough votes, will be elected to the Bundestag as a local representative.
The first vote is important to ensure that politicians from across the whole of Germany are represented in the country’s parliament.
Your Zweitstimme or second vote is not for a specific candidate but for a political party. The number of votes each respective party receives nationwide will determine how many of their candidates will be granted a seat in the Bundestag. Each federal state (Bundesland) has a party list featuring the names of these candidates. It is important to note that one party must receive at least five percent of the vote to be able to send any of its representatives to the Bundestag.
In summary, half of the Bundestag’s members win their seat via first votes, while the second vote determines the total number of seats occupied by each party.
The five-percent rule (Fünf-Prozent-Hürde or Sperrklausel in German) applies during the Bundestagswahl. This means that a party can only be elected to the Bundestag if they have received at least five percent of second votes. The chosen local candidates (those elected via first votes) will be given a seat in the Bundestag irrespective of the five-percent rule. This rule limits the number of parties in the Bundestag and thus avoids a situation whereby the parliamentary process is slowed by several extremely small parties having to reach agreement.
Registering to vote: If you are eligible to vote, you will automatically receive a poll card in the post in the weeks leading up to the election. This card will also tell you where to find your polling station (usually located in schools, but polling stations may also be in town halls or other public buildings). On election day, all you need to do is go to your designated polling station and present official proof of ID along with your poll card. If you lose your poll card, you can still vote: simply present your ID card or passport at your polling station on election day.
Voting by post: If you have received a poll card, you can also register for a postal ballot. This can be done either by post or online. The documents required to cast your ballot will be sent to your home address before the official date of the election. When you post the letter containing your vote, be sure that it will arrive no later than 6 pm on the day of the election. Postal ballots can be posted free of charge.
Filling out your ballot paper: You will find two columns in the centre of your ballot paper. You may place only one cross in each column. The left column is where you cast your first vote and the right column is for your second vote. It is also possible to just put a cross in only one column (i.e. to use only your first or your second vote). Do not write/draw anything else on your ballot paper other than a single cross in either or both columns as otherwise your vote may not be counted. It is also vital that you DO NOT sign your ballot paper.
The election results will be broadcast by media outlets and are also published online by Germany’s Federal Returning Officer (Bundestagswahlleiter). Following the election, the elected parties and politicians engage in discussions and usually form a coalition, i.e. an alliance of different parties. Further details are available here.
The centrepiece of #wAIman is a multilingual app that is now available in English, Turkish, Kurdish, Arabic, Farsi and Russian at voteswiper.org. Wahlswiper is an app that helps users compare their views with those of political parties. Short videos are available for each of the 36 questions, explaining the respective issue. After users have answered all the questions, they are shown how their views match with the respective parties.