How German voting works

ELECTION TIME! Whether you hold a German passport or not, you may be curious about the nuts and bolts of the German voting system. Here's a quick primer.

Germany’s voting system is so confusing that Germans get confused by it. Basically, everyone gets two votes. According to some opinion polls, most Germans still believe that their “First” vote is more important than their “Second”. But it isn’t. Half of the Bundestag, Germany’s lower house of parliament, is directly elected from one of Germany’s 299 constituencies, the other half is assigned by proportional representation. Here’s the difference:

  • The First Vote is for your local (direct) candidate. Whoever gets the most votes in the constituency gets a seat in the Bundestag.
  • The Second Vote is for a party list in your state. Results from the second vote will decide each party’s proportion of seats in the Bundestag.

That’s the easy part. The hard part is how this second half is actually distributed. Because there are other rules:

  • A party can only get into the Bundestag if it gets at least five percent of the Second Votes, OR: if it gets three directly elected representatives, in which case it gets a few extra mandates.
  • You can also get extra seats because of the Überhangmandate rule. If a party gets more directly elected MPs than it is entitled to by the percentage of Second Votes it got, it is assigned a couple more seats to make up for it. At the moment, in fact, there are 22 Überhangmandate in the Bundestag – and the total number of seats is 620.

The chancellor is not elected by the people, but by the Bundestag’s members once the election is over.