On 26 September 2021, it's that time again: every four years, German citizens of legal age elect the members of the German Bundestag. But what exactly do we need the Bundestag for? The elected members of parliament are supposed to decisively represent the interests of the people. For example, they decide on financial expenditures, approve treaties with other states, pass or amend laws, decide on Bundeswehr deployments, control the government and: they elect the Federal Chancellor.
How are these important representatives elected? Every eligible voter has two votes, each of which decides on half of the seats to be allocated in parliament. The first vote is used to elect a candidate from one's own constituency. There are a total of 299 constituencies in Germany. Those candidates can be nominated by a party or stand independently. In doing so, they present issues that are considered relevant to the respective region and/or party. The person with the most votes receives the direct mandate for a seat in the Bundestag. This ensures that each region of the country is represented in the Bundestag with votes. The second votes, on the other hand, determine the majority in the Bundestag, i.e., how many seats each party is entitled to. The second votes only count if a party wins at least 5% of the second votes nationwide or a direct mandate in at least three constituencies. In contrast to the first vote, it is not individuals who are elected, but the party's national lists, on which the candidates are listed who the respective party would like to send to Berlin. The order of the lists is important, because candidates are sent to Berlin in proportion to the number of second votes they have won: So, whoever is at the top is more likely to get there. Regarding the distribution of seats in the Bundestag, the seats are thus allocated first to the direct candidates of a party, before those on the state lists follow. Half of the MPs thus enter the Bundestag by first-past-the-post vote, while the total number of seats is decided based on the second-past-the-post seats won. Once all the MPs have been selected, the formation of the government begins. In order to be able to govern, more than half of all seats in the Bundestag are needed, i.e., an absolute majority. If none of the parties could achieve more than 50%, several parties join forces to form political compromises and thus coalitions. The MPs then elect the Federal Chancellor by secret ballot. By voting in the Bundestag election, citizens can thus influence both the formation of the government and the political representation of the country.
Citizens living abroad also have the opportunity to vote in German elections. Germans living permanently abroad must apply for registration on the electoral roll of the municipality where they were last registered before moving away at least six weeks before election day. The relevant form is available both online and at German consulates and embassies. The application for registration on the electoral roll is also valid as an application for a ballot paper and must be signed by hand. Subsequently, the postal voting documents will be sent automatically to the address given. These must be completed and received at the pre-addressed address no later than election day in order to be counted as a vote. Germans with a registered residence in Germany only need to apply for their absentee ballot papers (in writing, by e-mail or in person) at their local municipality. The German consulate and embassy in South Korea offer both the sending of applications for registration on the electoral roll from abroad to Germany and the return of election letters from abroad to the election offices in Germany. Information and forms can be obtained here.
For those who want to learn more about the leading candidates of the parties, the video and podcast format Kreuzverhör is highly recommended. (German only)