Facts about the Bundestag election

Information about electoral law and the distribution of seats

picture-alliance/dpa - Voting
picture-alliance/dpa - Voting
Electoral law
According to Article 38 of the Basic Law, the members of the Bundestag shall be elected in general, direct, free, equal and secret elections. All German citizens who have reached the age of majority are allowed to vote. Elections are based on proportional representation with elements of the first-past-the-post system. The majority in the Bundestag is decided by the distribution of second votes won by the different parties. 
First & second votes
The first vote is used to select a constituency candidate, in other words, the politician who should represent his or her region in the Bundestag. The second vote determines the relative strengths of the different parties. The candidate who receives the most first votes is elected, irrespective of how his or her party performs overall. These directly elected seats ensure that all regions of Germany are represented in the Bundestag. The second votes, however, are decisive because they determine which parliamentary party or coalition of parties later has the majority to elect the Federal Chancellor. 
Distribution of seats
Half of the 598 deputies are politicians who have received the most first votes in one of the 299 constituencies in Germany. The other half enter the Bundestag as candidates on a state party list, which is drawn up by the respective party prior to the election. The number of directly elected constituency seats is extremely important. It can change the distribution of seats determined by the second votes for party lists: if a party wins more constituency seats in a state than its proportion of second votes entitles it to, additional “overhang” seats (Überhangmandante) are created. The main change in the 2013 electoral law reform affects these additional seats. If a party wins more constituency seats than its share of second votes entitles it to, additional “balancing” seats (Ausgleichsmandate) are given to the other parties until the total number of seats (constituency and list seats) of each party reflects the share of second votes cast for that party as accurately as possible. This neutralizes the effect of the overhang seats.