Tue, Nov. 04, 2008

Elections in Germany and the United States

AK - Washington.   German federal elections -- the next one will be held in October 2009 -- differ substantially from their American counterparts. The German political system does not employ an electoral college system. In a parliamentary democracy such as Germany, voters elect members of parliament, Bundestag, in their precincts. Each of the two major German parties presents a candidate for the chancellorship, through decisions made by party elders, not the electorate in primaries.

Once the federal diet is elected, members of parliament pick the chancellor. The views of the electorate reflect that choice because each party's share of the popular vote gives them a corresponding number of seats in parliament. The president, Bundespräsident, officially appoints the chancellor and the members of the cabinet. Bound by the intent of the Bundestag, the president may not deviate from its choice.

The rules for federal elections in Germany are laid down by federal statute, Bundeswahlgesetz. A federal elections agency, Bundeswahlleiter, is responsible for the electoral process. For state elections in the German states, Länder, the principle of federal allegiance, Prinzip der Bundestreue, guarantees constitutional procedures.

Votes are cast by paper ballots. There are no and efforts to use electronic voting machines are the subject of litigation before the federal constitutional court in Karlsruhe. Some Länder are exploring means to enable electronic absentee voting in the next election cycle.

In sum, German and American elections differ substantially. Some similarity exists in the indirect elections of presidents in the United States and of chancellors in Germany. There appears to be consensus that the German parliamentary vote better reflects the popular vote than the electoral college. After World War II, American advisers had assisted Germany in developing the electoral system and their experiences influenced the constitutional structures in Germany.

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