The Bundestag should become smaller – that is the main task of the Bundestag’s electoral law commission. After seven rounds of consultation, a point is to be set this Thursday. The Commission – 13 MPs, 12 experts – then wants to discuss key points that are to be passed on to Parliament in an interim report at the end of August.
One proposal will definitely be in this paper: the reform proposal presented by three traffic light MPs back in May. It is sticking to 299 constituencies, but it is no longer certain that the winners in the constituencies will actually get a direct mandate, as they did before. The government factions could begin with a legislative process after the summer break.
The result would be that – based on the results of last September’s election – there would be 138 fewer MPs in the Bundestag. The traffic light model reliably adheres to the normal size of 598 seats. The current Bundestag has 736 MPs, up from 709 before.
All those parliamentarians who entered parliament via a compensatory mandate would be eliminated. That would be 104 MPs. This is generally considered to be rather unproblematic – quite a few in this group had not expected a seat in the Bundestag at all and were practically swept into Parliament from a relatively poor place on the list because the need for compensation was so great.
The dispute – the Union does not want to take part in the model – revolves around the other 34 MPs. They were able to get the most first votes in their constituencies – but would not get their direct mandate. Even after the traffic light proposal, majority voting takes place in the constituencies, and that includes the direct mandate guarantee. However, it would always be omitted if there was an overhang situation in a federal state.
Overhangs are the basic problem of the current electoral system and the reason for the bloating of the Bundestag. They arise when a party wins more direct mandates than it is entitled to based on the result of the second vote. The party representation is determined via the second votes and thus the distribution of seats – the current electoral law is according to its “basic character” (according to the Federal Constitutional Court) a pure proportional representation with personnel elections in constituencies. However, overhangs are not touched because of the direct mandate guarantee, instead there are equalization mandates to restore proportional representation.
The traffic light model – also known as the capping model – means in practice that in a country where a party has the upper hand, the constituency winners are ranked in a vote – the best at the top, and then percentages go down. The direct mandates with the weakest results are dropped until the second vote proportional representation is reached. In 2021 there were twelve overhangs by the CDU in Baden-Württemberg, eleven by the CSU in Bavaria, ten by the SPD in six states and one by the AfD in Saxony.
The CSU in particular has a problem with the traffic light solution. If you look at how it works, that’s not surprising: the party would lose all its big city mandates. Three in Munich, four in the Nuremberg/Erlangen/Fürth conglomerate, one in Augsburg – plus three in other constituencies. Since a state list does not pull in the event of overhangs, there would be no way within the party to compensate for this by securing candidates there. The CSU would have a representation problem – the state group would be small-town and rural.
The most prominent “victims” would have been ex-transport minister Andreas Scheuer in Passau and the deputy parliamentary manager Stefan Müller in Erlangen. Other “Capped”: Bernhard Loos, Wolfgang Stefinger, Stephan Pilsinger (all Munich), Max Straubinger (Rottal-Inn), Tobias Winkler (Fürth), Sebastian Brehm and Michael Frieser (Nuremberg), Volker Ullrich (Augsburg), Mechthilde Wittmann ( Oberallgaeu).
The CDU in Baden-Württemberg would have to do without the former migration commissioner Annette Widmann-Mauz (Tübingen), the parliamentary group leader Steffen Bilger (Ludwigsburg), ex-state secretary for economic affairs Thomas Bareiß (Zollernalb) and the European specialist Gunther Krichbaum (Pforzheim). . In contrast to the CSU, the cut direct mandates were spread more widely across the country. There are still: Maximilian Mörseburg (Stuttgart), Marc Biadacz (Böblingen), Christina Stumpp (Waiblingen), Alexander Throm (Heilbronn), Moritz Oppelt (Rhein-Neckar), Olav Gutting (Bruchsal), Diana Stöcker (Lörrach), Yannick Bury (Emmendingen).
In the case of the SPD, its own reform model would bring about the biggest cut in Brandenburg. There, the Social Democrats won all direct mandates in 2021, albeit narrowly in some cases. The “Capped” would have been Ariane Fäscher (Oberhavel), Simona Koß (Märkisch-Oderland) and Hannes Walter (Elbe-Elster). In Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, too, two direct SPD mandates would have to be cut: the two surprise winners Anna Kassautzki and Erik von Malottki in the east of the country. Double capping in Schleswig-Holstein: Sönke Rix (Rendsburg-Eckernförde) and Jens Stein (Kiel) would not have been given the mandate. Jakob Blankenburg (Lüneburg) would have been hit in Lower Saxony, Andreas Larem (Darmstadt) in Hesse and Christian Petry (St. Wendel) in Saarland.
The AfD, which wants to support a traffic light law (it proposed the cap model in 2020), would lose its direct mandate in Leipzig-Land in Saxony. The winner there was Edgar Naujok.
Since the traffic light factions in each constituency still want to have a direct deputy. a substitute voice should be introduced. This third vote can be given to an applicant from another party. If there is a capping of winners in the constituency, the substitute votes from their voters are allocated to the first votes of the others – whoever is in front then has the direct mandate (unless this results in an overhang again, in which case the direct mandate goes to the next best candidate) .
The justification for the cap model is that all direct mandates must have “second vote coverage”. That sounds plausible, but it also means that voters cannot be sure whether their constituency will be elected to the Bundestag and who will ultimately come out on top. Whether that would be constitutional remains a matter of debate in the Electoral Rights Commission. In contrast, the provision for substitute votes has already been described by several constitutional lawyers as possibly unconstitutional.