Are our electoral systems democratic

What is fair? : Germany can learn from the American electoral system

What an excitement, for days. But the American electoral system also takes getting used to. At least for us who live with proportional representation. However, there is no reason for arrogance. The US system is logical in itself, it is systematically clear. And that's what matters when it comes to the right to vote.

This can no longer be said unconditionally about the current system in Germany. After the reform decided by the Union and the SPD, it can no longer be recommended to anyone.

Across the Atlantic, the majority voting tradition, the presidential system and a specific understanding of the state have been combined into a whole that rhymes well. In any case, elections of individuals to individual offices always proceed according to the - relative or absolute - majority principle, even in German mayoral elections.

But in the USA there is also the fact that the states function as separate constituencies - in all of them, what is typical for majority voting systems, namely the duel, takes place.

In the nature of things

Whoever wins has the votes. They are graded according to the size of the states, a democratic weighting that we have in the Federal Council in a similar way. The starting conditions are clear and therefore fair. The fact that, in the end, candidates who are ahead nationwide in terms of individual votes can lose is not a systemic error and not necessarily unjust, but is in the nature of things.

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And here? The mix is ​​less obvious. The Bundestag has no fixed size, built into the system is a tendency to inflate it beyond any necessity. Seats are shifted between the federal states in order to maintain the nationwide party proportional representation, which is then disturbed again by the failure to compensate for overhangs - whoever calls this logically and systematically clean cannot be helped.

But proportional representation is better

But despite all the criticism of the German electoral law: the principle of proportional representation is overall better than that of pure majority voting. However, this has less to do with the question of justice than with the question of what consequences an electoral system can have for a society.

The most important difference between the two systems is quite simple: in the majority system, coalitions are usually formed before the election, in the case of proportional representation afterwards. This has considerable repercussions.

In the US system, a large number of voters have to form a coalition before the vote, to come together in order to get close to the majority. Because in the majority system there is little competition with a chance of success. So you have to compromise early on, with yourself and with others.

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Based on this consideration before the election, millions of US citizens voted for Trump without considering him particularly sympathetic or particularly capable. After all, what is left for moderate Republicans who can't make up their minds to turn to Joe Biden's Democrats? In case of doubt, abstinence from voting. But then they have even less than they would if they cast their teeth in favor of Trump.

The swallowing of toads

The Biden coalition, in turn, narrowly won because the Democratic candidate managed to win over left-wing Democrats who left Hillary Clinton alone in 2016. The prospect of another four years of Trump outweighed the aversion to the center-politician Biden. Here, too, it was a matter of swallowing a toad.

Citizens have it easier with proportional representation in the parliamentary system. The offer is wider. You can choose purer. The electoral coalitions that form behind the parties in advance are more homogeneous. However, the problem of forming a government, usually resolved in the US with the election, is shifting to parliament. So we delegate the formation of a government, the most important consequence of an election, to party elites. These must agree on stable coalitions with a majority.

It depends on the willingness to reach a consensus

There can be problems here - delays like we did in 2017, a long phase of uncertainty like in Belgium, or a complete blockade like at the end of the Weimar Republic. It always depends on the parties' ability to reach a consensus.

If this is the case, radical minorities have a hard time gaining disproportionate weight, as happens again and again in majority systems. The political center is the measure of all things in countries with proportional representation. It has an integrating and stabilizing effect.

In societies with majority systems, which are often characterized by polarizing either / or constellations and the need to form broad coalitions before elections, there are always crucial tests. The necessary integration of the margins in the grand coalitions in order to get close to the majority is at the expense of the broad center.

Serious quirks of the German system

Our system of personalized proportional representation is an attempt to integrate the organizational advantages of majority voting - small constituencies, direct candidates from the grassroots, broad regional representation. The model found in 1949 worked for a long time, but it has serious flaws.

Therefore one does not have to give up the principle of “proportional representation connected with the election of personnel”. This definition in the electoral law leaves room for some reform variants, which the Bundestag as a whole was unable to agree on.

Now it will be interesting to see what the Federal President will do with the unsuccessful attempt at reform by Groko. Their September election law is fraught with constitutional doubts. It is currently being examined in Bellevue Palace.

In the event of serious reform, we can even learn something from the Americans in one respect: their electoral system is understandable, clear, simple and fits the federal system of government. It should be the same with us.

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