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Berlin Elections 2016

Explain Like I’m 5: The Berlin elections 2016

published on 2016-08-15 by Sara
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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. Unfortunately, the AFD dumbfucks – so dumb they’re somehow even giving the real Nazi parties a bad image – always put their posters out of reach for the typical vandalism.] 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.

  1. Berlin elects its representatives at state level (Land – Abgeordnetenhaus or House of Representatives) [1. This one’s especially confusing because Berlin is a state and a city. In my former home state Hessen, it was always called Landtagswahlen. I didn’t know what an Abgeordnetenhaus was good for.] 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.
  2. 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:

  1. Direktstimme Land
  2. Zweitstimme Land
  3. 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)?

We need more protected neighborhoods in which the transformation from rental to owned apartments is difficult (Mitte)

There should be bike lanes on the big streets such as Karl-Marx-Straße and Sonnenallee (Neukölln)

The Ordnungsamt should do something to enforce the smoking ban in bars and clubs (Neukölln)

The number of festivals and events on Breitscheidplatz should be reduced (Charlottenburg)

The streets typically used for illegal car racing should have more preventive speed bumps and cameras (Tempelhof-Schöneberg)

The Müggelsee should become the Wannsee of the East, with restaurants and cafés and an entrance free (Treptow-Köpenick)

The airport Tegel should stay open even after the opening of the new airport (Pankow)

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.

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