The procedure for calculating the distribution of seats was last modified by the Act amending the Federal Elections Act and the 25th Act amending the Federal Elections Act of 8 June 2023 (Federal Law Gazette I 2023, no. 147). The calculation uses the Sainte-Laguë/Schepers method.
Bundestag elections are candidate-centred elections and the allocation of seats is based on proportional representation. The system combines two elements: a first vote and a second vote. The first vote elects a constituency candidate. Up until and including the 2021 Bundestag election, the candidate who received the most votes won (relative majority). From the 2025 Bundestag election onwards, these seats must also be backed by second votes. The second vote goes to the Land list of a party. The number of second votes determines the number of Bundestag seats a party receives (proportional representation) and is therefore decisive. The decision to introduce the seat allocation procedure based on second votes as of the 2025 Bundestag election has further enhanced the role of the second vote.
Parties which have won less than 5 % of the second votes are not considered in the distribution of seats (restrictive clause). Up until and including the 2021 Bundestag election, parties were considered in the allocation of seats if they had won at least three constituency seats (minimum representation clause). The minimum representation clause has been repealed and will not apply in the 2025 Bundestag election. Therefore, votes cast for parties which do not pass the 5 percent threshold do not have an impact on the distribution of seats in the Bundestag.
First of all, the seats are allocated to the parties (upper level distribution). This means that the seats are distributed according to the proportions of second votes cast for the Land lists of the parties in the electoral area.
This is then followed by distribution at the lower level. The seats determined for each party in the upper level distribution process are allocated to their Land lists in proportion to the number of second votes they received.
In each Land, the party candidates who won the most first votes in the constituencies are ranked by descending proportion of first votes in order to identify the constituency candidates who will be awarded a seat under the seat allocation procedure based on second votes. The proportion of first votes is calculated by dividing the number of first votes for the candidate by the total number of valid first votes cast in the particular constituency. The seats resulting from the lower level distribution are then allocated to the constituency candidates based on the order described above.
Any seats remaining after the allocation procedure based on second votes are distributed to the Land lists according to the order of the Land lists.
In European elections, the 96 seats of the German representatives are allocated based on proportional representation only. Every person entitled to vote has only one vote, which is cast for a list. Every party or voters’ association may draw up a common list for all Länder or lists for individual Länder; the latter are usually regarded as one proposed list.
Since the 2009 European election, the seats have been distributed using the Sainte-Laguë/Schepers calculation method. All votes cast for a proposed list are added up.
In European elections, there are no restrictive clauses like the 5 percent threshold that applies in Bundestag elections. The Federal Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional both the 5 % restrictive clause that previously applied and the 3 % restrictive clause that was introduced as its substitute. This means that all political parties are considered when the seats are distributed.