The fold-out chart facing the following page has been prepared to facilitate comparison of the electoral laws in effect in the Federal Republic of Germany, its constituent states, and West Berlin as well as in the former Weimar Republic.
With the installation of democratic government in postwar Germany, one of the main problems to be solved was the method of appointing the people's representatives. A choice had to be made between the two basic electoral systems--majority vote and proportional representation.
Under the simple majority vote system, no matter how many candidates stand for a single available seat, the candidate receiving the most votes is elected, however small his share of the total. Obviously this method, (used in US Congressional elections and in Great Britain and really appropriate to a two-party system) becomes less and less representative with each increase in the number of competing parties.
Many continental European countries require a candidate to be elected by an absolute majority of votes. If a candidate fails to archive this, a second ballot is held between him and the candidate with the secondlargest number of votes.
The idea underlying proportional representation is that every shade of political opinion ought to be represented in the legislature. A multitude of methods have been devised to find a compromise between this postulate and the fact that it is impossible for every citizen to have a parliamentary representative of his own. The basic principle of all variants of proportional representation is to have large election districts carrying a rather great number of seats and to vote for party tickets rather than for individual candidates, enabling any well-knit minority to attain to parliamentary representation. The numerous variants concern the election procedure as such and the subsequent arithmetical allocation of seats. Three of the arithmetical methods recurring in the chart are quoted as examples:
A. a permanent election quotient is established (60,000 in the Weimar Republic); the votes cast for each ticket are divided by this election quotient; the results give the number of seats for the respective ticket; B. an election quotient, varying with each election, is obtained by dividing the total of votes cast by the available number of seats. The number of votes cast for each ticket is then divided by this quotient, establishing the corresponding number of seats; C. the method of Victor d'Hondt as adopted in several of the electoral procedures charted. According to this method, the totals of valid votes cast for each ticket are divided successively by one, two, three and so on, as circumstances may require, so that a column of decreasing numbers is obtained for each ticket. The figures thus obtained in all the columns are then combined in decreasing order in a single column. Going down this column, the available parliamentary seats are allocated one by one to the highest, second-highest, etc. figure, or rather to the ticket the respective figure stems from, until the number of seats is exhausted.
In many variants of proportional representation, the number of votes lost to the various parties through the procedure of dividing the votes by an election quotient or through the d'Hondt procedure are salvaged by combining and re-considering them on a higher level. Thus, many a small party eventually may achieve parliamentary representation, the mandates of larger parties may be augmented and inequities occurring at the lower level can be rectified. Minimum clauses for parliamentary representation (e.g., 5% of the total vote) often preclude the cropping up of splinter parties. In order to combine the advantages inherent both in majority vote and proportional representation, mixed electoral systems have been designed. Their common idea is to elect a certain percentage of delegates directly by simple majority vote, and to take the votes cast for the defeated parties, which would otherwise be "lost", and combine them on a higher level (land reserve list) where they are used to allot the remaining seats to the respective party tickets, often by using the d'Hondt system.
In the course of three generations, Germany has tried all the above mentioned electoral systems. To replace the absolute majority system, which since 1871 had served in the appointment of delegates for the German national parliament, proportional representation was introduced for elections to the Reichstag after World War I.
In the discussion after World War II on the establishment of parliamentary representation, the opponents of the system of proportional representation charged that from 1918 to 1933 it had furthered the rise of numerous splinter parties and pressure groups, many of which in the course of time achieved parliamentary representation. The Nazi rise to power was also, in part, blamed upon certain aspects of proportional representation, which had progressively narrowed the foundations for the establishment of workable government coalitions. The adherents of proportional representation, on the other hand, stressed the inequities in majority vote.
At the Moscow Council of Foreign Ministers Conference in 1947, Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov insisted on the proportional representation system for all of Germany. When, in the Soviet Zone, proportional representation did not secure Communist dominance, its rulers resorted to the "unity list" system which pre-arranges quotas for the individual parties and "mass organizations."