Maybe you’ve noticed that all of the competing parties in the upcoming Berlin elections have started campaigning. There are the proto-typical campaign-posters, but also a rise in graffiti and political demonstrations in my neighborhood.1 But what are the Berlin elections about? How do the Berlin elections work? Who can vote?
I thoroughly googled the answers while procrastinating work. Here’s my attempt of an ELI5 (Explain Like I’m 5) for the Berlin elections 2016.
Berlin Elections 2016: What are we voting for?
On the 18th of September 2016, Berlin will vote on two very different things, thus making an already confusing thing even more confusing! Which shouldn’t come as surprise to anybody who has been in touch with German things before.
- Berlin elects its representatives at state level (Land – Abgeordnetenhaus or House of Representatives) 2 You can vote for this election if you have German citizenship. The result of this election has major power over most decisions in regards to Berlin.
- Berlin elects its representatives at district level (Bezirksverordnetenversammelungen / BVV). You can vote for this if you have EU citizenship and are registered in Berlin; and you can vote from age 16. The BVV consists of 55 members per district. They’re responsible for day-to-day administration. The BVV – district councils – also elect the district administrative body.
Both elections are held every five years. This year is also the end of the current legislation period, meaning our current mayor Michael Müller (SPD) is at the end of his term.
Election for the House of Representatives
The principle of voting is the same as in the general elections explained above. The voter gets two votes: Erststimme (primary vote) for a direct mandate to a candidate of the district in which the voter is registered (I am registered in Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain, therefore I can give my first vote to a representative of my district). The second vote (Zweitstimme) elects a party for the state.
How many people eventually end up in the House of Representatives depends on how many direct candidates have been voted in, versus how many parties have scored seats according to their percentage. Here, we enter the deep realm a the mythical creature called “Überhangmandate”. What sounds like the morning after a two day rave at Sysyphus, is, in fact, the inexplicable offside of the German representative democracy.
Here’s the ELI5 of the Überhangmandat: there are 130 seats. They are allocated by percentage of the party vote (second vote). If 10% of votes go to Party X, then they get 13 seats, yea? But if they already have like, 15 people voted into the HoR on the first vote, then those extra 5 people get seats too, yea? Then the REST of the parties go dumb because they have less seats now in the HoR even though their percentage is higher, yea? SO THEN OTHER PARTIES ARE GRANTED ADDITIONAL SEATS TO BALANCE THE OVERHANG! God, what a fantastic band name: BALANCE THE OVERHANG. Thus, the parliament becomes larger and larger. Anyway; this is mostly a problem on the national level, as far as I know, not so much on state level.
If you’re a German citizen and eligible to vote in the district and state elections, you will receive three ballots:
- Direktstimme Land
- Zweitstimme Land
- Stimme Bezirksverodnetenversammlung
Election for the Bezirksverodnetenversammlung
You can vote only for parties or unions. They have lists of candidates, but generally, you just vote for a party. You can’t vote for single candidates. If the parties don’t have enough members to fill the seats, the seats stay empty.
The district councils decide on urban planning concepts, they are concerned with youth welfare services and responsible for the district’s budget (which is to be confirmed by the House of Representatives). The district councils also decide on the Milieuschutz – whether neighborhoods should be preserved and thus saved from luxury transformations and turning rented housing into owned housing. But the Milieuschutz has become a joke, a political tool to deflect fault with no real functionalities.
How and when do I vote in the Berlin Elections?
Polling stations are open from 8 am to 6 pm on Sunday, September 18th.
All German citizens who have resided in Berlin since June 18th 2016 [Link in German] are eligible for the elections. If you are a EU-citizen and registered in your district, you are eligible to vote in the district election.
You don’t have to register to vote for the elections, you will get notified with your mail at your registered address automatically. If you’re not in Berlin on 18th September, you can opt to vote via mail.
What are the important issues of Berlins 2016 election?
All the contending parties have published election programs for the Berlin elections. Almost all of them focus on the housing issue, on education and security (in regards to terrorism and street crime). Both the Bezirk-o-Mat (for the districts) as well as the Wahl-O-Mat (for the state elections) help you find out what the issues are and what or whom to vote for.
I obviously can’t tell you who to vote for, but I know the demographics of my readers. So I decided to go through some of the Bezirk-O-Mat statements, select some interesting ones and translate the essence of the responses.
Should Spätis be kept open on Sundays (Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg)?
- Die Grüne: Yes (It’s part of Berlins atmosphere)
- CDU: Yes (Lots of jobs)
- Linke: No (More work in poor working conditions)
- AfD: No (Spätis don’t have quality food, also we need more quiet in a busy city)
We need more protected neighborhoods in which the transformation from rental to owned apartments is difficult (Mitte)
- SPD: Yes (That’s our main issue)
- Grüne: Yes (We’ve already done it before – to ensure that not just affluent people can afford living in the center of Berlin)
- Linke: Yes (That’s pretty much the only thing we can do in the districts to try and save the situation)
- CDU: Maybe (We already have 5 of those areas in Mitte; we would have to really consider if we need more!)
There should be bike lanes on the big streets such as Karl-Marx-Straße and Sonnenallee (Neukölln)
- Grüne: Yes ( More bikes!)
- Linke: Yes (More bikes! Bikes are great)
- SPD: Maybe (We want to enhance the bike lane network and are looking for solutions)
- AfD: Maybe (Eh, Berlins streets are tiny. Maybe we should re-built and widen Weserstraße instead?)
- CDU: No (We want to separate bike lines from the streets!)
The Ordnungsamt should do something to enforce the smoking ban in bars and clubs (Neukölln)
- SPD: Yes (We’re already doing something but there’s not enough staff)
- Grüne: Yes (We’ve always been trying to protect the non-smokers; your cigarette stubs also shouldn’t be on playgrounds or anywhere near children, as well as bus stops or hospitals … )
- Linke: Maybe (There’s no such thing as a smokey bar anymore. Most bars adhere to the rules).
- AfD: No (The smoking ban hurts our constitutional freedom; the Ordnungsamt has better things to do)
The number of festivals and events on Breitscheidplatz should be reduced (Charlottenburg)
- Grüne: Yes (We need less of those low quality events)
- Linke: Yes (The Breitscheidplatz is the heart of the City West. We want our citizens to actively plan and execute little festivities, and not have the space be used for expensive festivals which mostly cater to tourists. This is why we need to reduce the commercial use of the square).
- CDU: Maybe (We don’t want less activities, we want better quality)
- AfD: Maybe (We should ask the people who live here if they’re bothered by the events)
The streets typically used for illegal car racing should have more preventive speed bumps and cameras (Tempelhof-Schöneberg)
- SPD: Yes (We want cameras)
- Grüne: Yes (We want cameras and “road pillows”)
- Linke: No (We don’t think it’s going to solve the problem. We want more police to handle the problem)
- AfD: No (We only want mobile controlling methods, such as mobile speed cameras)
The Müggelsee should become the Wannsee of the East, with restaurants and cafés and an entrance free (Treptow-Köpenick)
- Die Linke: Yes (But not with entrance fee. This is OUR Müggelsee, and doesn’t have to be compared to Wannsee!)
- CDU: Maybe (We think a new Sauna will definitely cost some entrance fees)
- SPD: No (Don’t get us wrong: we want to restore Müggelsee, but not for entrance fee!)
The airport Tegel should stay open even after the opening of the new airport (Pankow)
- Piraten: Yes (We already need more than just the planned capacity of BER)
- AfD: Yes (We need to reduce flight traffic. But it would be a big mistake to close this airport)
- SPD: No (We’re closing this baby, no way around it)
- Grüne: No (We thought this discussion was over. Well it’s not. But Tegel is still going down)
- Linke: No (This is not a question for the district council. But we still think Tegel should close!)
Obviously, there are more districts, more questions and more answers. This was just supposed to give you an idea of the values of some of the districts parties as well as some of the questions of the Bezirk-O-Mat (or Wahl-o-Mat, respectively) that are important for the upcoming Berlin elections.
While both tools are great for an overview of the issues, you should always be very careful. I had a 40% match with the AfD at the Wahl-O-Mat, but while we sometimes come to the same conclusions, their explanations made me dry-heave in disgust.