September 26th 2021 - Everything up for vote on Berlin’s extraordinary election day

Eine Frau haelt den Stimmzettel fuer die Bundestagswahl in einem Wahllokal (Bild: imago images/Emmanuele Contini/Colourbox)
Bild: imago images/Emmanuele Contini/Colourbox

Three elections and one referendum make Sunday 26th September unique in the history of Berlin. Here is an overview of the main facts. By Agnes Sundermeyer

Every five years, Berlin elects its representatives of the people at the state and district level. Specifically, elections are held for the Abgeordnetenhaus (House of Representatives) and for the twelve Bezirksverordnetenversammlungen (District Assemblies). But that’s not all. This year, the election for the Bundestag – i.e. the Federal Parliament – falls on the same date.

Moreover, the electorate is able to vote on whether it should be possible to expropriate large real estate corporations, with the referendum "Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen and Other Corporations". In total, there are six boxes that each voter can cross. But before all this gets confusing, let’s cover the facts one by one:

WHO CAN VOTE?

All Germans – i.e. people with German nationality and who are at least 18 years of age on the election day – have the right to take part in the elections for the Abgeordnetenhaus. There is also the requirement that they have been domiciled in Berlin for at least three months, without interruption, and are not excluded from the right to vote.

The same goes for the Bundestag election. In this case, voters must have lived in the Federal Republic of Germany for at least three consecutive months.

Germans living abroad can also take part in the vote. Those excluded from the right to vote include people whose right to vote has been denied by court ruling. Only eligible voters may participate in the referendum as well.

Regarding the elections for the Bezirksverordnetenversammlungen, citizens of other member states of the European Union (EU) with a registered domicile in Berlin are also entitled to vote, in addition to German nationals. The minimum age for voting in the Bezirksverordnetenversammlungen elections has also been lowered to 16 years.

WHEN AND HOW TO VOTE?

The polling stations are open on Sunday 26th September from 8 am to 6 pm. The votes will then be counted in a public process that you can even watch.

Those unable to go to a polling station in person have the option to submit a postal vote [bundeswahlleiter.de] in the six weeks prior to the election. Postal voters need a ballot paper in this case. Voters can request this in writing from the local authority of their main domicile; telephone requests are not possible. There is also a printed form on the reverse of the polling card that every voter receives by post, which can be completed and returned – including by email. Alternatively, the polling card features a QR code; by scanning it, all personal details for the ballot paper will already be entered.

All five ballots for all elections need to be placed in the same ballot envelope. Otherwise, electoral secrecy will not be guaranteed and the vote will be invalid.

WHO AND WHAT CAN I VOTE ON?

1. The election for the German Bundestag

The role of the Bundestag is to pass legislation and oversee the government. It is elected for a period of four years.

53 parties are running [bundeswahlleiter.de] in this parliamentary election. Voters have a first and second vote. They can use the first vote to vote for a candidate of a party who runs in a constituency. All of Germany is divided into 299 constituencies. The candidate who receives the majority of the vote in their constituency enters the Bundestag.

The second vote is used to vote for a party. In order for the Bundestag to reflect how successful the parties were in the election, each party receives as many seats as they are entitled to according to this result.

2. The election for the Berlin Abgeordnetenhaus

The Abgeordnetenhaus is the state parliament in Berlin. It creates laws and forms the state government, which it also oversees. Citizens can vote for both parties as well as individual candidates running for parliament. Voters have two votes: one for a party at the state level and one for the direct candidate in the constituency. In order to enter the Abgeordnetenhaus, a party needs to receive five percent of the vote.

The number of representatives who then sit in the Berlin Abgeordnetenhaus after the election is not the same in every legislative period. Strictly speaking, there are 130 seats for parliamentarians in the Abgeordnetenhaus. Depending on how much of the vote the parties receive, they are allocated seats in parliament on a proportionate basis.

However, as is the case for Bundestag elections, there is also the first vote in addition to the second vote used to vote for a party. This allows candidates to be elected directly. If someone wins here who is placed at the end of the party list or not placed on the party list at all, overhang mandates are available for them. This means that a party may end up with significantly more seats in the Abgeordnetenhaus. In order for the balance of power between the parties in the entire assembly to be maintained, other parties may then also be allocated additional seats. This is also the reason why the current parliament comprises 160 representatives.

The election also marks the end of the legislative period as well as the office of the Governing Mayor Michael Müller (SPD) and his senators as well as the district mayors. Müller will not run for this office again but is campaigning instead for the German Bundestag.

3. The elections for the Bezirksverordnetenversammlungen

The Bezirksverordnetenversammlungen (BVV) are the communal parliaments of the districts of Berlin, comparable with town councils and municipal assemblies in other federal states. There are twelve districts in Berlin: Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, Lichtenberg, Marzahn-Hellersdorf, Mitte, Neukölln, Pankow, Reinickendorf, Spandau, Steglitz-Zehlendorf, Tempelhof-Schöneberg and Treptow-Köpenick.

The BBV district assemblies take decisions on institutions or areas for which only the district is responsible. For instance, this includes district parks, school buildings and youth institutions as well as universities and libraries. It also encompasses the organisation of youth welfare offices and regulatory agencies.

Each of the twelve districts in Berlin has a BVV. They are elected every five years, on the same day as the Abgeordnetenhaus.

In the BVV elections, candidates are not elected directly. Instead, voters give their single vote to a party or voters’ association in their district. To enter the BVV, a party needs three percent of the vote. The factions in the BVV are then allocated seats according to their share of votes. The BVV assemblies comprise no more than 44 district representatives.

The number of district representatives may also be reduced in the Bezirksverordnetenversammlung. If there are few candidates on the list of a party who are able to enter the BVV, these seats will remain empty.

The strongest faction in the BVV is typically represented by the district mayor. Sometimes, other parties that received fewer votes may join electoral associations to field a candidate.

4. The referendum

Now we are left with the vote on the referendum initiative "Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen and Other Corporations". This vote does not concern the election of parties or representatives. Here, Berliners are able to vote on whether it should be possible to expropriate real estate corporations that have more than 3,000 flats, in exchange for compensation.

For the referendum to be successful, two conditions need to be met. Firstly, the majority of voters have to vote "Yes". Secondly, what is known as the “quorum” has to be fulfilled: at least one quarter of all eligible voters must vote "Yes". This currently equates to just over 617,000 votes.

Whether the path to expropriations is then clear remains uncertain. The Senate would only be "called upon" to enact a bill, but it is not legally bound to implement the plans of the initiative. The final decision on a new law will then be taken by the newly elected Abgeordnetenhaus

This is a translated version of this German text. It is also available in Polish and Turkish.

Beitrag von Agnes Sundermeyer

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