Germany electoral system change?

Apparently the parties in Germany’s current governing coalition have agreed a package of reforms to the electoral system. The article is behind a paywall and thus I am unable to translate it. Someone on Twitter said it keeps the size of the Bundestag at 598 and “eliminates Überhangmandate.”

I am guessing this actually means that it would change the rule on how to compensate other parties when one party has won more total seats via nominal-district victories than its list vote in a state would entitle it to. It is those wins that over-represent a party that I understand as “overhang” seats, although sometimes the term refers instead to the additional seats used to compensate.

I hope someone has the details and can enlighten me.

UPDATE: See first comment. This is a big deal. I’d understand this proposal as Germany being prepared to abolish MMP. It is not a mixed-member system if it’s possible for a candidate with the most votes in a nominal district not to win the seat.

46 thoughts on “Germany electoral system change?

  1. From the piece (my translation):

    “In the past twenty years, the Bundestag has become larger and larger. This was due to overhang and compensatory mandates. Overhang mandates occur when a party wins more direct mandates in a federal state than it is entitled to according to the results of the second votes. To ensure that the other parties are not disadvantaged as a result, there have also been compensatory mandates since the 2013 Bundestag elections. The draft bill of the traffic light parliamentary groups now provides for a radical cut. In future, there will be no more overhang and compensatory mandates. As a result, the Bundestag will always have its standard size of 598 MPs. However, this may mean that a candidate who gets the most votes in a constituency will still not be allowed to enter the Bundestag. Example: If the CSU in Bavaria were to win all 46 direct mandates, but according to its second vote result would only be entitled to 41 seats in the Bundestag, the five constituency winners with the lowest first vote result would not get a Bundestag mandate. The number of constituencies in Germany – currently 299 – is not to be changed. This will avoid a complicated redrawing of constituencies. The so-called basic mandate clause is also to be retained. It provides that a party that fails to clear the five-percent hurdle but wins at least three direct mandates may still enter the Bundestag according to its second-vote results. The Left Party benefited from this rule in the last Bundestag election. Even if no one in the traffic light coalition says it openly: by maintaining this exemption, the traffic light coalition wants to secure the Left’s consent to the new electoral law. (…) In order to make the significance of the respective votes clearer, the coalition now also intends to change names. In future, the first vote will be called “constituency vote” – and the second vote “main vote”.”


  2. Interesting <a href=”|>article on a not dissimilar topic from the Malay Mail.

    Malaysia desperately needs redistricting reform but that’s apparently seen as a separate issue. The Pakatan Harapan minority government headed by Ibrahim Anwar is committed to redistricting reform but hasn’t announced any details yet.


  3. RCV is an ambiguous and infelicitous term. It theoretically includes non-STV systems like Condorcet, Borda and the Condorcet-Borda hybrid that Ned Foley supports, but is actually used in the US almost exclusively to mean STV where M=1. Tom is correct in a previous thread that we need greater precision in these discussions, but I’ve got no proposal for terms for:

    STV where M=1
    Non-STV but preferential systems
    Tom’s own contribution to ambiguous terminology of arguing that minimum preferential systems and optional preferential systems are the same.


    • In Bavaria, Free Voters – which didn’t clear the nationwide 5% threshold – reached second place with 16.7% in Rottal-Inn, one of the 11 Wahlkreisen where CSU would have been forced to give up a single-member mandate in 2021 had the proposed system been in place at the time. Of course, in that case an alternative would have been to award the seat to the party in third place – which in that case would have been AfD with 12.7% – CSU won the seat with 35.1% – but I doubt that would have gone down well.


      • Wahlrecht
        Ampel will Bundestag deutlich verkleinern
        15. Januar 2023, 16:48 UhrLesezeit: 2 min

        Die Koalition einigt sich auf einen Gesetzentwurf: Statt bisher 736 Abgeordneter soll es künftig nur noch 598 geben.

        Von Robert Roßmann, Berlin

        Die Ampelkoalition hat sich auf eine Reform des Wahlrechts verständigt, mit der der Bundestag auf 598 Abgeordnete verkleinert werden soll. Derzeit gibt es 736 Abgeordnete. Die Fraktionen von SPD, Grünen und FDP wollen an diesem Montag einen entsprechenden Gesetzentwurf vorstellen. Er liegt der Süddeutschen Zeitung bereits vor.

        In den vergangenen zwanzig Jahren ist der Bundestag immer größer geworden. Das lag an den Überhang- und Ausgleichsmandaten. Überhangmandate entstehen, wenn eine Partei in einem Bundesland mehr Direktmandate gewinnt als ihr Sitze nach dem Zweitstimmenergebnis zustehen. Damit die anderen Parteien dadurch nicht benachteiligt werden, gibt es seit der Bundestagswahl 2013 auch Ausgleichsmandate.

        Der Gesetzentwurf der Ampelfraktionen sieht nun einen radikalen Schnitt vor. Es soll künftig keine Überhang- und Ausgleichsmandate mehr geben. Dadurch wird der Bundestag immer seine Normgröße von 598 Abgeordneten haben. Dadurch kann es aber passieren, dass ein Kandidat, der die meisten Stimmen in einem Wahlkreis erzielt, trotzdem nicht in den Bundestag einziehen darf.

        Ein Beispiel: Wenn die CSU in Bayern alle 46 Direktmandate gewinnen würde, nach ihrem Zweitstimmenergebnis aber lediglich Anspruch auf 41 Sitze im Bundestag hätte, würden die fünf Wahlkreissieger mit dem niedrigsten Erststimmenergebnis kein Bundestagsmandat bekommen.

        Die Zahl der Bundestagswahlkreise in Deutschland – es sind derzeit 299 – soll dagegen nicht verändert werden. Dadurch wird ein komplizierter Neuzuschnitt der Wahlkreise vermieden. Auch die sogenannte Grundmandatsklausel soll erhalten bleiben. Sie sieht vor, dass eine Partei, die an der Fünf-Prozent-Hürde scheitert, aber mindestens drei Direktmandate gewinnt, trotzdem entsprechend ihrem Zweitstimmenergebnis in den Bundestag einziehen darf. Von dieser Regelung hat bei der vergangenen Bundestagswahl die Linke profitiert. Auch wenn es in der Ampelkoalition niemand offen ausspricht: Durch den Erhalt dieser Ausnahmeregelung will sich die Ampelkoalition die Zustimmung der Linken zu dem neuen Wahlrecht sichern.

        Die Vorsitzenden der drei Ampelfraktionen bemühen sich aber auch um eine Verständigung mit CDU und CSU. Am Sonntag schickten sie deshalb ihren Gesetzentwurf an Unionsfraktionschef Friedrich Merz und boten Gespräche an. Vor allem die CSU hat sich bisher vehement gegen eine Regelung gewehrt, wie sie jetzt von der Ampel angestrebt wird. CSU-Landesgruppenchef Alexander Dobrindt nannte sie sogar verfassungswidrig.

        Allerdings gab es eine vergleichbare Regelung eine Zeit lang auch im bayerischen Landtagswahlrecht. Außerdem werden inzwischen viele Wahlkreise mit niedrigen Ergebnissen gewonnen. Bei der vergangenen Bundestagswahl gab es mehr als 80 Wahlkreise, in denen der Sieger nicht einmal auf 30 Prozent kam. Ein Wahlkreis wurde sogar mit 18,6 Prozent gewonnen.

        Um die Bedeutung der jeweiligen Stimmen klarer zu machen, beabsichtigt die Koalition jetzt auch Namensänderungen. Die Erststimme soll künftig “Wahlkreisstimme” heißen – und die Zweitstimme “Hauptstimme”.


  4. right to vote
    Traffic light wants to significantly reduce the Bundestag
    Jan 15, 2023 at 4:48 p.m Reading time: 2 mins

    Conversion work in the German Bundestag

    The coalition agrees on a draft law: Instead of the previous 736 MPs, there should only be 598 in the future.

    By Robert Rossmann , Berlin

    The traffic light coalition has agreed on a reform of the electoral law, with which the Bundestag is to be reduced to 598 MPs. There are currently 736 MPs. The factions of the SPD, Greens and FDP want to present a corresponding draft law this Monday. It is already available to the Süddeutsche Zeitung .

    In the past twenty years, the Bundestag has grown in size. This was due to the overhang and compensation mandates. Overhang mandates arise when a party wins more direct mandates in a federal state than it is entitled to according to the result of the second vote. To ensure that the other parties are not disadvantaged as a result, there have also been compensatory mandates since the 2013 federal election .

    The draft law of the traffic light factions now provides for a radical cut. There should be no more overhang and compensation mandates in the future. As a result, the Bundestag will always have its standard size of 598 MPs. As a result, however, it can happen that a candidate who achieves the most votes in a constituency is still not allowed to enter the Bundestag.

    An example: If the CSU in Bavaria won all 46 direct mandates, but was only entitled to 41 seats in the Bundestag based on its second vote result, the five constituency winners with the lowest first vote result would not get a Bundestag mandate.

    The number of Bundestag constituencies in Germany – there are currently 299 – should not be changed. This avoids a complicated reshaping of the constituencies. The so-called basic mandate clause should also be retained. It stipulates that a party that fails at the five percent hurdle but wins at least three direct mandates can still enter the Bundestag according to its second vote result. The left benefited from this regulation in the last federal election. Even if no one in the traffic light coalition says it openly: by maintaining this exemption, the traffic light coalition wants to secure the approval of the left for the new electoral law .

    The chairmen of the three traffic light groups are also trying to reach an understanding with the CDU and CSU. On Sunday, they therefore sent their draft law to Union faction leader Friedrich Merz and offered talks. The CSU in particular has so far vehemently opposed a regulation such as that now being sought by the traffic light. CSU regional group chief Alexander Dobrindt even called it unconstitutional.

    However, there was a comparable regulation for a while in the Bavarian state electoral law. In addition, many constituencies are now being won with low results. In the last federal election, there were more than 80 constituencies in which the winner did not even get 30 percent. One constituency was even won with 18.6 percent.

    In order to make the meaning of the respective votes clearer, the coalition now also intends to change names. In the future, the first vote will be called the “constituency vote” – and the second vote will be called the “main vote”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The cited example doesn’t fully convey the potential impact in Bavaria of the proposed electoral system, under which CSU would have been assigned just 34 of 598 seats in 2021, even though it won in 45 of 46 single-member districts in Bavaria. Therefore, it would have had to give up 11 single-member mandates where it won with the lowest percentages, among them three in Munich (out of a total five seats), both Nuremberg seats and one of two Augsburg seats. In other words, Bavaria’s major cities would suffer a disproportionate impact under the proposed system, and for that as well as other reasons I suspect Karlsruhe won’t be amused.


  5. Thomas Däubler on Twitter:

    A variant that had been considered but didn’t make it into the proposal: everyone can indicate a second preference in the SMD tier, and if your first one turns out to be for one of the worst winners, the vote would transfer.


  6. My suspicion that a big reason a lot of polisci nerds prefer MMP is that they get to see frequent debates and changes to any such system in the real world is strengthening by the day.


  7. Pingback: The Problem With MMP, and How Germany Is Fixing It – Koji's Posts

    • They do not want a substantial reduction in the number of SMD because they want to avoid a complete redrawing of the map. Vested interests of those incumbents elected in the SMD tier.


      • Gotcha. Good to see the “turkeys don’t want an early Thanksgiving” rule applies outside of Canada.


        • Outside of North America that phrase doesn’t really have much meaning, but I take your point.


        • I’ve heard British commentators use “Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas” as a saying in this context. Perhaps at least somewhat more broadly applicable than the Thanksgiving reference.


  8. So does this mean if a party wins the most votes in one or two districts – along with few to no votes elsewhere – they will not enter parliament, whereas previously they would have won an overhang seat or two?

    And will another effect of this be to increase the effort put into local campaigns by the larger parties, and within-party relationships? Manuel Alvarez-Rivera mentions that the CSU would have lost seats in the large Bavarian cities because of this. So now the CSU incumbents would be more inclined to campaign for local voters (over and above the amount needed to come first), so that they can rise up above CSU candidates elsewhere in the state. This might mean making concessions to local voters on issues that are very important to voters in other parts of the state/country. On the other hand, this is to the benefit of the CSU as a whole because more constituency votes in Munich or Nuremberg might lead to more main votes overall – and more seats. So is this kind of change associated with an increase in factionalism?


    • A party that wins 1 or 2 single-member district seats but gets under 5% of the list vote keeps them and gets no further seats. That is the rule now and remains intact under the latest proposals.

      A party that wins at least 3 constituency seats is entitled to compensatory seats on the list no matter how they do on the list vote, but not to ‘overhang’ ones. This is also not proposed to change.

      So no, there will be no lesser incentive than before for hyper-local campaigns. If you’re wondering about the SSW, they currently have 1 list seat because they’re exempt from the threshold. They did not win a FPTP seat in 2021.


      • I take it that you mean the party that wins the 2 districts get to keep them only if they also got enough PR votes to qualify for at least 2 seats out of 598 (but less than 5%)? Or would the 2 district winners be treated as if they were independents?
        By the way, running district candidates as independents would be what I would do if I were the CSU should their constitutional challenge fail. Granted, they could already have done that under current rules and they would still have gained advantage, but the effect of distortion will be greater if the Bundestag size is fixed.


        • Fair question. At the moment, the two district winners are treated as if they were independents (so it’s worth noting that in 2002 the PDS, forerunner of Die Linke, won just 2 seats despite gaining enough second votes to be entitled to around 25 seats because they fell below the threshold). I’m not sure if the proposed change to the electoral law will change the formula to make sure that the FPTP winners are not from some micro-party that didn’t run candidates anywhere else (or got 0.001% if they did).

          That would be an interesting tactic by the CSU if they were to try it. It certainly feels like it’d be open to a legal challenge.


        • Perhaps I am wrong (and my German is not good enough to confirm it 100%), but if an actual independent wins a direct mandate, aren’t the second votes cast on the winner’s ballots thrown out to prevent exactly this sort of thing?


        • Indeed, see Bundeswahlgesetz [federal electoral act], § 6, (2), second sentence: “Nicht berücksichtigt werden dabei die Zweitstimmen derjenigen Wähler, die ihre Erststimme für einen im Wahlkreis erfolgreichen Bewerber abgegeben haben, der gemäß § 20 Absatz 3 [=independent candidate] oder von einer Partei vorgeschlagen ist, die nach Absatz 3 bei der Sitzverteilung nicht berücksichtigt wird [=party not clearing the threshold] oder für die in dem betreffenden Land keine Landesliste zugelassen ist.”

          Liked by 1 person

  9. Two quick replies:
    1. I don’t think the change is that much of a big deal in one sense. Since the introduction of “Ausgleichsmandate”/compensatory mandates in the 2013 elections, that compensated parties for the Überhangmandate of other parties, the system had become de facto PR as winning local districts above and beyond the proportional vote share didn’t result in more seats vis-a-vis most other parties.
    2. It’s far from clear that this proposal, even if it becomes law, would actually be used in the next election. The three governing parties explicitly want to pass the law this April, so that the Constitutional Court could rule on the law. A challenge by the CDU/CSU is widely expected. The CDU/CSU also introduced their own proposal for a reform that would reduce the number of directly elected seats today. From the FAZ today (Translated with (free version):

    “In the dispute over reducing the size of the Bundestag, the head of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group is proposing to the traffic light coalition to reduce the number of constituencies from 299 to 270, according to media reports. This is reported by the media house Table.Media and the “Süddeutsche Zeitung”. The newspaper refers to a “flash briefing” of the parliamentary group leadership to its delegates, the media house to coalition circles.

    A reform of the electoral law has been disputed for years. The standard size is 598 mandates, by overhang and compensatory mandates the parliament had grown in recent years always further – last on the record size of 736 delegates. In a draft bill, the traffic light parliamentary groups have now proposed that in future there should be no more overhang and compensatory mandates in order to return to the standard size. This could mean that directly elected representatives in a constituency would not receive a seat in the Bundestag. The CDU/CSU rejects this.

    Amendment of the so-called basic mandate clause
    According to both media reports, the leadership of the CDU/CSU is proposing to reduce the number of constituencies to 270. This would also significantly reduce the number of overhang and compensatory mandates. It is also “conceivable” that “up to 15 overhang mandates could remain unbalanced. These arise when a party wins more direct mandates in a federal state than the number of seats it is entitled to in the Bundestag according to its second-vote results. To ensure that the other parties are not disadvantaged as a result, there have been compensatory mandates for them since the 2013 federal election.

    According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the CDU/CSU parliamentary group is also proposing a change to the so-called basic mandate clause. This stipulates that a party that fails to meet the five-percent clause can still send representatives to the Bundestag in accordance with its second-vote results if it has won at least three direct mandates. The Left Party benefited from this in the last Bundestag election. According to the report, the CDU/CSU is now proposing to increase the number to five constituencies to be won.”

    I am not sure how serious the proposal is, given that the Union parties dragged their feet on this for two legislative periods when they were in power. The proposal might even appeal to some Social Democrats, given how it might lead to the expulsion of the Left Party from power and that the SPD is the other main beneficiary of overhang mandates. At least, there are now a number of alternatives on the table.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I expect the Constitutional Court to strike parts of this down, but with any luck it won’t derail the whole thing, because there are good parts such as the change in terminology on the ballot paper.

    I think a lot of ordinary German voters who aren’t political anoraks are still under the impression that the ‘Erststimme’ is the more important one.

    I am intrigued by the final sentence in the post: “It is not a mixed-member system if it’s possible for a candidate with the most votes in a nominal district not to win the seat.”

    This raises the question of how the present Bavarian ‘Gesamtstimme’ system would be classified, if not as MMP? The 5% hurdle is considered absolute there. Just because it’s never happened in Bavarian to my knowledge, doesn’t mean it hasn’t been possible for however many previous Landtag elections.

    As we can see from the example in Manuel’s earlier comment, there is nothing explicit in the law which states that a district seat won by a party which is not eligible to receive further seats is automatically awarded to the SECOND-PLACED candidate, although for simplicity’s sake it’ll probably be reported as such.


    • Regarding that final sentence, this is the standard definition of mixed-member: There are “nominal” seats that are won by candidates based on votes cast for them (by name, not party), and there are “list” seats won by candidates ranked on party lists–obviously in a compensatory manner if it is MMP.

      So it’s not MMP if someone who gets the most votes in a single-seat district is unable to take the seat due to their party not being entitled to it. Is that already the case in Bavaria? I’ve long had questions about whether the Bavarian system “counted” as MMP or not. I don’t think I ever came to a conclusion on that.

      Note: that it might not be MMP does not mean it is a “bad” idea. It just is something different, and as a result it may have different political consequences.

      Earlier, kazuario (18/01/2023 at 6:55 am) suggested some plausible impact that such a provision could have. Whether or not that is precisely the effect we would expect (I am not sure, need to think on it more), I think we (and Germans discussing these reforms) should at least be aware that the change could be substantial enough to have political consequences. Nils-Christian Bormann (20/01/2023 at 12:00 am) suggested the changes already in 2013 had made the districts less politically significant. That may be true, although I am not sure I agree it has had a substantive effect. For one thing, the basic tier even in 2021 still produces outcomes we’d expect if the districts matter to the outcome, even if arguably they no longer do. (On this latter point, see my summary of the 2021 election, in particular the third paragraph after the second table.)


      • Yes, as far as I am aware, that is the letter of the law in Bavaria at present. It’s just that with the level of CSU dominance there, I don’t believe any party has ever been in danger of having a FPTP winner actively deprived of their seat in practice.

        There are a handful of districts in the two largest cities, Munich and Nuremberg, that can be won on a good day by the SPD and latterly the Greens, but they are both not in any real danger of falling below the 5% threshold.

        In the days when the FW (Free Voters) list was still below 5%, they may have finished a distant second to the CSU in some ultra-safe rural districts, but I think that’s as close as we’ve ever come to having that part of the electoral law actually applied.


      • The name changes to “Main vote” and “Constituency vote” are central to the proposal.

        In MMP the first step is the filling of all the SMD seats with the FPTP winners according to the “first votes”. The next step is one-by-one distribution of top-up seats according to the party (“second”) votes. In countries with a previous history of SMD-only elections, there may be little (NZ) or no (Scotland) overhang compensation. This gives results that are “Proportional if possible, but possibly not proportional.”

        Conceptually, the proposed changes in Germany begin by allocating all seats according to the party (“Main”) votes, provisionally filling them with list candidates. The next step is one-by-one awarding of SMD seats, according to the candidates’ shares of “constituency votes”. Each successful SMD candidate replaces one of their party’s provisional list candidates. An FPTP winner will not be seated is there is no longer a list candidate to replace: “FPTP if possible, but possibly not FPTP.”

        Perhaps the system could be called PMM – Proportional Mixed Member — to emphasize the reversal of MMP priorities!


  11. Can MMP be combined with 2 member districts using the SNTV with party lists, would this resolve Germany’s problem with overhangs?


    • Something that was actually proposed in the Netherlands. I was among a team of advisors asked to give our opinion. We told them they were nuts (not in those exact words).


        • This was in 2005 or thereabouts. Memory fuzzy. But mostly the usual objections to SNTV, plus the fact that putting things together that haven’t been tried together before is always risky when talking about electoral reform. Basically, even if the effects were to be benign, I’d struggle to see the point of such a composite. And I recall that is was pretty evident they had not really thought it through when presenting it for comment.


      • Did the Dutch want an MMP system using two members plus party lists? Would this system be disproportionate? Or too much like Chile’s old binomial system. Would the 2nd placed party get too many seats causing more overhangs? Something I never thought of could be problematic.


        • Surely, if the overall composition is determined by the list vote using PR, the overall problems of SNTV should only appear in a very mild form, if at all (maybe akin to open list PR).


        • I am not sure about that. It is certainly plausible, but I would not count on it, and would not feel professionally safe saying we could predict how it would work.

          Anyway, as I said, it was a long time ago, and Rob brought it up I had not thought about it in years!

          (Also, down-thread, see the comment by Steven Verbank, who offers a link to the proposal itself.)


  12. If a party wins “too many” district seats, what solutions are there to choose from?
    I see the problem and its possible solutions as if in the ideal situation the result is “zero-zero” : no deviation from proportionality, no extra seats.

    A method with Überhangmandate chooses “one-one” : the total number of seats is raised with one and a party has one seat above its proportional share.
    As an example: a target of 10 seats with 5 districts won by party A and list vote result: A 35%, B 27%, C 24%, D 11%, E 3%.
    This will give A 5 district seats (but only list votes for 4) and B gets 3 list seats, C 2 and D 1. (11 seats in total)

    The Scottish top-up method chooses “zero-two” : the total number of seats cannot change (“zero”) but a party gets more than its proportional share, even more than with Überhangmandate (because the other parties do not get an extra list seat) (“two”).
    In my example: A wins 5 district seats and B gets 2 list seats, C 2 and D 1.

    A method with Ausgleichmandate chooses “two-zero” : the total number of seats is raised even more than with Überhangmandate only (“two”) so that proportionality is restored (“zero”)
    In my example: A wins 5 district seats and B gets 3 list seats, C 3 and D 1. (12 seats in total)

    The German proposal want to get back to “zero-zero” (no deviation from proportionality, no extra seats), but it then has to give in on something else. It chooses to make exceptions to the simple “plurality wins” method in the district tier.
    In my example: A wins only 4 district seats (one district remains empty) and B 3, C 2 and D 1 list seat.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Project management involves the iron triangle of time, cost and value. You want fast, cheap and good but sometimes the reality is “on time, on budget or on spec – pick any two”.

      Design of an electoral system with an SMD tier and a compensatory tier has a similar tension in its design. You want: each party’s seats in proportion to its votes; only FPTP winners filling the SMD seats; predetermined, fixed size of assembly. Sometimes the outcome of an election is such that all three objectives can be achieved, but some election outcomes require at least one of them to be relaxed in order to maintain the other two criteria.

      MMP in Scotland is willing to relax proportionality; current MMP in Germany allows assembly size to vary; the proposed change in Germany would allow some SMD seats to be filled by FPTP also-rans.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.