Germans are sometimes said to be so organized that turmoil dominates. The German electoral system is no exception. It’s so complicated that even many Germans don’t understand it.
This is a simple primer.
Are voters choosing the prime minister today?
Not exactly. Unlike the United States, voters do not directly elect head of government. Rather, they vote for parliamentary representatives to choose the next prime minister, but only after forming a government. We’ll talk more about this later.
Germans going to polls today know who they are actually voting for, as the major political parties have declared to the prime minister who to choose. The most likely candidates to become prime minister this year are Social Democratic Olaf Scholz or Christian Democratic Armin Laschet. Annalena Baerbock on the green has an opportunity from the outside.
Who can vote?
German citizens over 18 years old. There is no need to register in advance.
How are parliamentary seats allocated?
Everyone who goes to vote today has two votes. The first vote is for the candidate to be the local representative of the district. The second vote is for the party. Voters can split their votes between political parties, and often do so. For example, a person can cast one vote for the Social Democratic Party as a local council member and two votes for the Christian Democratic Party as a party.
There are 598 members in Congress, but there may be more due to system quirks. Top voters in all districts automatically win parliamentary seats. These candidates make up half of the members of parliament. The remaining seats will be allocated according to the number of seconds each party receives.
However, political parties may be assigned additional seats according to formulas designed to ensure that all factions in parliament have a delegation that accurately reflects state support. Therefore, Congress can easily end with 700 members.
Also, political parties with a turnout of less than 5% will not win any seats.
What will happen next?
It is unlikely that either party will have a majority in parliament. The party with the most votes must try to form a government by agreeing to coalition with other parties. The rise of the alternative for Germany on the far right and the Linke party on the left makes it mathematically difficult.
Mainstream parties have ruled out coalitions with any of these parties because of their extreme position. However, it will be difficult for the rest of the parties to find enough common ground to bring the majority together. This process can take several months.