Germany has a notoriously complex voting system for electing its Bundestag, or lower house. The system seeks to combine the benefits of both direct and proportional representation while guarding against the electoral mistakes of German history, which saw political fragmentation during the Weimar Republic between WWI and WWII. The 2009 and 2013 parliamentary elections saw a significant drop in German voter turnout to around 70 percent, but with the rise of the populist movement that draws on non-voters in all democratic states, the numbers are expected to rise this year. This year, 61.5 million people age 18 and above are eligible to vote in the national election, according to figures from Germany’s Federal Statistics Office. Of those, 31.7 million are women and 29.8 million are men with some 3 million first-time voters. Over a third of Germany’s voters – 22 million – are over 60 years old, meaning the older generation often has particular sway over the election outcome.
The largest number of eligible voters live in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia (13.2 million), followed by the southern states of Bavaria (9.5 million) and Baden-Württemberg (7.8 million).
When Germans head to the polls on September 24, they’ll receive a deceptively simple ballot with two choices – one for a district representative and one for a party.
The first vote or “Erststimme” for the district representative, follows a first-past-the-post system like elections in the United States. The voter selects his or her favorite candidate to represent their district in the parliament. Every candidate who wins one of Germany’s 299 constituencies – which are divided up per 250,000 inhabitants – is guaranteed a seat.