First vote

In Bundestag elections, the first vote is marked on the left half of the ballot paper. That vote is cast to elect the constituency candidate directly. Up until and including the 2021 Bundestag election, the candidate who received the majority of the votes was directly elected to the Bundestag. Therefore, the relative majority of votes was sufficient. From the 21st electoral period onwards, a constituency seat must also be sufficiently backed by the second votes a party has won in a Land.

The strength of the individual parties in the German Bundestag does not depend on the first votes but on the total number of second votes cast for the Land lists of the parties, because the 598 seats in the German Bundestag are distributed based on the second votes cast for the parties. By way of exception, the first vote plays an important role in determining the strength of the individual parties in the German Bundestag in cases where

  • a party which has not secured at least 5 percent of the valid second votes cast in the electoral area is considered in the distribution of seats among Land lists by second votes in accordance with Section 6 (3), first sentence, of the Federal Elections Act due to the fact that the party has won a seat in at least three constituencies,
  • the number of seats is increased because constituency seats have to be retained.

A constituency candidate (candidate for direct election) may be on the relevant Land list of his or her party. This is not mandatory, however. If such a candidate has already been elected in the constituency, he or she is not taken into consideration as a Land list candidate.

The field on the left half of the ballot paper remains empty for any party competing for second votes only, that is, a party which submits a Land list for the election but does not have its own constituency candidate.

Voters’ associations and candidates for direct election nominated by parties which do not submit a Land list are listed alphabetically on the ballot paper (left half) after the constituency candidates, but below the last Land list printed on the right half of the ballot paper.

In European elections, there are no first and second votes, but one vote only.

Legal bases

Sections 4, 5, 30 of the Federal Elections Act (BWG)
Section 45 of the Federal Electoral Regulations (BWO)

Last update: 22 December 2023