Elections in Germany are always a big event that is eagerly awaited from all walks of life. To avoid any confusion when marking the ballot paper, we will explain both the electoral system and the composition of the Bundestag.
How do the elections work?
Every four years, Germans vote for their favorite parties and the members of the Bundestag. This is a classic feature of a parliamentary democracy, in which the people do not make decisions directly, but leave them to the elected representatives.
In Germany, there is a broad spectrum of popular parties for this purpose, which is complemented by many smaller parties. There are 598 seats in the Bundestag, but this number is not normally reached and is far exceeded.
The election is universal, direct, free, equal and secret. This means that every German citizen over 18 can vote secretly. In doing so, they elect the members of parliament directly and may not be influenced in their choice. Each person's vote counts for exactly one vote. These rules are anchored in the Basic Law.
This is what the ballot paper looks like
But the German Election System looks simpler than it actually is. In practice, every citizen votes with his or her first and second vote.
With the first vote, one votes for a certain person who does not necessarily have to belong to a party, but who would like to be elected to the Bundestag as a member of parliament. These politicians are nominated for each constituency. The person who wins a constituency enters the Bundestag without exception. This ensures that the parliament represents the whole people with its 299 constituencies.
The second vote, on the other hand, is given to the party of one's choice. The second votes are added up nationwide and at the end there is a percentage distribution. If, for example, a party has 20 percent of the votes in the whole of Germany, it is also guaranteed 20 percent of the seats in the Bundestag. However, a party must receive at least 5 percent of the votes to be able to claim these seats.
These votes combined result in a lineup of members of parliament that represents all of Germany and also brings in the opinion of the masses. However, first and second votes do not always go hand in hand, which is why different mandates have been introduced.
The world of mandates
If you get a mandate as a politician standing, it means that you get a seat in the Bundestag. Direct mandates exist, for example, for the aforementioned politicians who win their constituencies. They enter the Bundestag even if their party fails to clear the 5 percent hurdle or if they do not belong to any party at all.
But these direct mandates can cause complications, which happens when a party gets so many direct mandates that this exceeds the number of seats it is entitled to in the Bundestag. However, a direct mandate is irrevocable. Here, there are now overhang mandates, which allows all these MPs to be part of the Bundestag.
However, this is unfair to the other parties, because these overhang mandates would change the elected ratio of the parties in the Bundestag. In order to compensate this circumstance preventively, there are compensatory mandates, which allow the other parties to send more deputies to the Bundestag.
This system is designed to ensure that elections are fair and cannot be changed by the system. The people decide. However, this also means that the Bundestag is always fuller than the intended 598 deputies. This in turn makes it more difficult to reach agreements and decisions.