Election day in Germany isn’t until September 24. But what if the decisive votes have already been cast? More and more Germans are choosing to vote early, which also changes who loses and who wins. More people in Germany are skipping the trip to the voting booth and casting their ballots ahead of election day. In 2013, 24.3 percent of German voters cast their ballots early and by mail, and Cristina Tillmann, director of the Future of Democracy Program at the Bertelsmann Foundation, said that number could rise even further this time around. “Mail-in voting is here to stay,” Tillmann told DW. “It’s become a full-fledged alternative to going to the polls in the real lives of voters, so it’s no longer an exception, even if it’s legally still defined as one. Parties and election workers need to reckon with a quarter or even 30 percent of voters casting their ballots early.”
The trend reflects the fact that fewer people’s lives conform to the traditional Monday-to-Friday, nine-to-five structure. As increasing numbers of people vote early, many make up their minds later in the pre-election phase.
“More and more citizens no longer belong to traditional social sub-cultures with connections to specific political parties,” University of Mannheim political scientist Marc Debus told DW. “More and more voters are independent in terms of political parties, and they also make up their minds later in the process. At the same time, in comparison to the past, more people work on Sunday or are otherwise occupied professionally or in their private lives.”
But early voting does more than just reflect changes in German society and culture, it also has the potential to change the outcomes of elections. And that’s something that has not escaped the notice of politicians.