Do you understand the German Electoral System?


Share post:

An electoral system is the rules by which an election is conducted. In the Bundestag election, the electoral system determines how the members of the Bundestag are elected. These rules make up the electoral system. 

How does the German electoral system work? The voters receive a voting slip. There you enter your choice. Everyone has two votes, so they can put two crosses on the ballot paper. With the first vote, the voter decides which person from her electoral area should come to the Bundestag as a member. A party is elected with the second vote. How many MPs a party will later have in the Bundestag depends on the second votes.

Rules for the German elections

The electoral system determines in what way the voices of voters and voters are given and how the votes cast on the distribution of seats in a parliamentary impact.

Bundestag elections: these are the rules

  • Everyone has two votes: In the Bundestag election you can cast two votes on the ballot paper: In the left column you make a cross for the first vote, on the right for the second vote. With the first vote, a candidate from one’s own constituency is directly elected. There are 299 constituencies in Germany. With the second vote you choose a party. The number of second votes determines how many candidates a party can send to the Bundestag in total.<
  • Free choice: Voters are free to choose when voting. For example, the direct candidate you elect does not have to belong to the same party that the voter with the second vote votes. In any case, there may only be a cross for the first and second vote in both columns, otherwise the ballot slip is invalid.
  • Distribution of votes to the seats in the German Bundestag: The number of MPs who are in the Bundestag for a party after the election is determined according to a fixed procedure. First, the number of seats of the parties in the Bundestag is calculated. This is obtained by counting the second votes. The second votes show what the proportion of votes between the various parties in parliament looks like. This is done according to proportional representation .
  • Who will be a member of the Bundestag?: If you know how many seats each party gets, it still has to be clarified which people will move into the Bundestag. First of all, all those MPs come to the Bundestag who have received a majority in their constituencies through the first votes . (According to the principle of majority voting). If a party is entitled to additional seats because of the second votes, those persons who were named by the parties in the state lists before the election come into the Bundestag.

Different options – different rules

For other elections, different rules usually apply. For example, in the European elections, everyone has one vote. There are also very different electoral systems in state and local elections.


Why is the upper right corner cut off on the German ballot paper?

By cutting off the top right corner, blind and visually impaired people will be able to read the ballot with a so-called voting slip template. This template can be placed exactly on the cut corner. This is how visually impaired people can exercise their voting rights independently.

German Ballot template

german electoral system

A voting slip template is an aid with which blind and visually impaired voters can read the content of the voting slip with their fingers and vote independently and secretly at the polling station or when voting by post.

To adjust the voting slip template, all voting slips are uniformly perforated or cut off in the upper right corner. This does not allow any conclusions to be drawn about the individual voting behavior of the voters.

The voting slip templates are provided by the local blind associations on request, even if a person entitled to vote is not a member of such an association. The subscription is free.

How does the German federal election result come about?

The result of the Bundestag election is due to the fact that the citizens vote in the Bundestag election to decide who should rule our country . The votes are counted and then the result of the federal election results. 

1. Five Percent Clause

Electoral law

In the German electoral law there is a five percent clause for state and federal elections as well as for many local elections. A “clause” is a specification, a provision. The five percent clause states that a party must achieve at least five percent of the votes cast in an election in order to be able to send members to parliament. If they fail, the party will not be represented in parliament until the next election. However, there are exceptions to this rule

Five percent clause only for second votes

Attention: The five percent clause applies to the votes cast for a party. These are the second votes in the federal elections . All direct candidates who are elected will definitely come to the Bundestag, even if their party received less than five percent of the second votes.

Why is there this clause?

The five percent clause is intended to prevent too many small parties from entering the parliament. Because that would make governing difficult. It is important for government that decisions are supported by a majority in parliament. But if the MPs belong to many different parties, it is very difficult to win a majority among the MPs for a decision. Majorities are easier to find when there are few parties in a parliament.

Colloquial language

In colloquial language, the five percent clause is also known as the “threshold clause” or “five percent hurdle”.

2. Overhang mandate

Direct candidates and MPs from the state list

The German electoral system is a combination of proportional representation and majority voting. In the elections to the German Bundestag, you choose the direct candidate with your first vote. Anyone who receives the majority of all first votes in a constituency is definitely elected as a member of parliament (majority vote). 

With the second vote you choose a party. According to a certain system, it is then calculated how many candidates a party can send to parliament according to the second votes (proportional representation). 

Some of the members of parliament are elected with the first vote, the other part is taken from a list of counties previously determined by the party, depending on the number of second votes. It can happen that more direct candidates are elected to parliament for a party than this party is entitled to seats in parliament after the second votes. These are the so-called overhang mandates.

An example of overhang mandates

Suppose a party wins 30 direct seats in an election. A total of 100 seats are to be allocated in the election. In the second vote she receives 40 percent of the vote, which would mean a total of 40 seats in parliament. Then the 30 directly elected MPs would move into parliament for the party and an additional 10 MPs from the state list. 

However, if 44 candidates had received a direct mandate, but the number of second votes would have remained the same, the party would “actually” – as above – only have 40 seats in parliament. The party will definitely get the four additional seats. These are the overhang mandates.

Overhang mandates and compensation mandates

According to the electoral law passed by the German Bundestag in spring 2013, there must be compensatory mandates for all overhang seats that one party receives, for all other parties in the Bundestag.

3. Compensatory mandate

Compensation for overhang

Compensatory mandates can exist if there are overhang mandates in an electoral system. This is possible, for example, in Germany in the federal elections.

Rule for compensation mandates

The following rule then applies: If one party receives overhang mandates, the other parties receive compensatory mandates for it. These are additional mandates, so additional deputies in Parliament. So if one party has received an overhang mandate, all other parties must also get a mandate for it. The compensation mandates is to ensure that in parliament the power relationship between the parties is as the voters have decided and voters.

What is the German Bundestag

german electoral system

The Bundestag is the parliament of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Many millions of people live in Germany. In order for coexistence to work well, you need rules and laws. But who decides which rules should apply? Because not all people can always be asked about it, they choose their representatives who decide. These are the members of the German Bundestag. 

“German Bundestag” is the name of the parliament. The German Bundestag is in Berlin. These are the most important tasks of the German Bundestag: It elects the Federal Chancellor, it votes on which laws should apply and controls the government.

The German Parliament

“Deutscher Bundestag” is the name of the German parliament. It works in the capital Berlin. The members of the Bundestag, the deputies, are elected by the people for four years. The representatives of the people belong to different parties.

Duties of the Bundestag

The most important tasks of the Bundestag include the election of the Federal Chancellor , control of the government and legislation. In addition, the Bundestag participates in the election of the President and selects the judges and judge at the Federal Constitutional Court. When the Bundestag takes a decision, at least half of all members of the Bundestag must be present.

Proportional representation in Germany

Parties make lists

With this right to vote, the parties compile lists for the whole country before election day. On it are candidates from a party who want to move into parliament on behalf of their party. The voters and voters decide in choosing between the different lists of the parties.

As many voices as possible

It is important for each party to get as many votes as possible. Because the number of people who go to parliament as members of the party depends on the number of votes that a party has received .

Electoral system in Germany

In Germany there is a mixed system for elections to the German Bundestag , that is, a mixture of majority and proportional representation.

Majority in parliament

Important for democracy

Majorities are very important in a democracy . It is the majority principle according to which decisions are often made: In votes and elections, the will of the majority prevails over the will of the minority .And the decision is then valid for everyone. The class representative, who is elected by a majority, also speaks for those who did not vote for him. 

Different majorities

It is important that there are different majorities. Above all, a distinction is made between absolute and relative majority in elections and votes. There is also the term “qualified majority”.

What does absolute, relative and qualified majority mean?

  • Absolute majority: The absolute majority is achieved when a person or a party receives more than half of all votes. An example: 100 votes were cast in the election for the class representative. Hannah has 60, Udo 25 and Max 15 votes. Hannah has an absolute majority, namely more than 50 votes.
  • Relative majority: A relative majority is achieved when a person or party receives the most votes in an election, but not more than half of all votes. An example: Again there are 100 votes cast. Udo has 45 votes, Hannah 35 and Max 20 votes. Udo has the relative majority. He does not have more than half of the votes, but he has the most votes of all candidates.
  • Qualified majority: In some votes in parliament, a so-called qualified majority must be achieved. Then it is precisely specified how large the majority must be for a resolution to be valid. For example, a two-thirds majority or three-quarters majority of all votes may be required.

The right to vote in Germany

If you are 18, which is the legal age, you have the “right to vote” in federal elections. You can vote for a person to run for office. That is the “active” right to vote. But you can also run for election yourself in order to be elected yourself, that is the “passive” right to vote. The right to vote has existed in Germany since 1871, for women only since 1918.

Voting age in Germany

When you turn 18, you are of legal age. Then you also have the right to vote. You are allowed to elect your MPs, who are to represent you in the parliaments. In some federal states you can vote in local elections at the age of 16, and in some also in state elections.

Active and passive right to vote

When you vote , you are exercising your right to vote or, as it is also called, your “right to vote”. And if you want to be elected yourself, you can do so when you come of age. Ye suffer as a candidate or a candidate set up, can be so then selected. This is called “passive right to vote”. 

In theory, you can become a mayor or member of the Bundestag at the age of 18. But this has not happened yet, because you need a certain amount of life experience for such important positions. However, you have to be significantly older than 18 years to become the Federal President or would like to be elected Federal President. The minimum age here is 40 years. 

Women had to wait a long time

German Electoral System

The right to vote, universal suffrage, as it is called, was introduced in Germany as early as 1871. It only applied to men, however. Women did not get the right to vote in Germany until 1918. In other European countries like the UK and France it took even longer.

Expaturm aims to help educate Expats in Germany on key issues that they will have to deal with while living in Germany by providing everything you need to know about Banking, Healthcare, Lifestyle, and Housing in Germany


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related articles

The 18 long German words that you will have fun with. Yes, have fun trying to pronounce them!

Why are there very long German words? Would you like to know what this part of speech means...

The 21 most beautiful lakes in Germany – to swim in!

Corona will soon be gone! So it's time to find the best lakes in Germany with the best...

Germans think these 9 things are better than sex!

(Good) sex is great! And yes, it can be mind-blowing. But are there things that are better than...

What you need to know about fake vaccine passports (before getting one on Instagram!)

In Munich, the police arrested a gang of fraudsters who allegedly forged hundreds of digital corona vaccination cards...