German ballot. Photo by Awaya Legends (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Every five years, Berlin’s German and EU citizens are summoned to polling stations to elect their representatives in the state and local assemblies. That’s easy. What might get confusing is that these elections are both local and general, part first-past-the-post, part proportional representation. Some of the candidates you vote for directly; some are from a list. If you’re an Anglophone reader who by a twist of lineage and law finds themselves eligible, don’t be confused because you have more than one vote when you get in the booth. You have three, in two elections:
First, there’s the election for the state parliament (Berlin is one of Germany’s 16 states), which currently has 149 seats. You have two votes here – one for the local candidate whom you want to represent you in that parliament, one for the party you want to be strongest. You can split your votes, perhaps if you feel sexually attracted to a certain candidate but unfortunately they are in the CDU. Who can vote: German citizens over 18 years old who have been living in Berlin for at least three months.
Then there’s the election for your local Bezirksverordnetenversammlung (BVV), or local district assembly. There are 12 districts in Berlin, and each assembly has 55 members, who are all chosen from a list drawn up by the parties. You have one vote in this election, and you only get to choose between parties, not candidates. Like state parliament members, district assembly members serve a five-year term. Who can vote: EU citizens over 16 years old who have been living in Berlin for at least three months and in their district for at least one month.
Three more things you need to know: 1. If you’re eligible to vote in one or both elections, you’ll get a letter telling you where your nearest polling station is. You don’t have to bring this letter along (though the election officials like it if you do, for some reason), but you do have to bring state-issued ID – your passport, obviously. And you don’t have to vote in the polling station the letter says, though it does have to be one in your neighbourhood. You have 10 hours (8am- 6pm) to cast your vote. Unless it’s really close, the result will be called within two or three hours after polls close.
2. You don’t vote directly for the Berlin mayor. He or she is elected by the members of the new state parliament, according to electoral results. But each of the major parties have already chosen a leading candidate (Spitzenkandidat), who will probably become mayor if their party wins. If they win but don’t have a majority assembly, they’ll have to partner up with another party – like the current so-called “Grand Coalition” between the SPD and CDU. This time, it will almost certainly come down to the SPD’s Michael Müller (incumbent), and the CDU’s Frank Henkel (Berlin’s current interior minister). But if something weird happens, like the SPD crashes and burns, and the CDU wins but no other party will enter a coalition with them, one of the smaller parties could end up fielding the mayor. Voters don’t get a say in the ensuing coalition negotiations.
3. The state parliament election is definitely the more important one, because it has more power. It controls the state government (confusingly called the Senat), makes laws and decides Berlin’s budget. Your BVV controls your local district administration and chooses how the district spends its money, but it has no legislative power. The Berlin government does sometimes come into conflict with the districts – recently, they’ve bickered over how many sports halls the latter should give up as emergency refugee shelters – but the Berlin government usually gets its way.
For complete information about the September 18 Berlin election in six languages vist voteberlin.eu