Voting is one of the fundamental civil rights German citizens have. But can expats in Germany vote? That’s the question we’ll be answering today. To do so we’ll take a look at the German political system and how non-German citizens can participate. Let’s get going!
In some cases, but generally not. If you’re an expat but you don’t yet have German citizenship, you don’t have the right to vote in the most important German elections: the General elections (Bundeswahlen) and the State elections (Landswahlen).
If you’re an expat from the EU, you're allowed to vote in the local elections (Kommunalwahlen) and the European elections. You can only vote once, though, so no traveling back to your home country to vote in the EU elections again!
If you want to vote for either of these elections, make sure to register at the local election office (Wahlamt) at least 3 weeks before the election takes place. If you’ve been successfully registered, you should receive your polling card (Wahlbenachtrichting) 3 weeks before the next elections. If you’ve only just registered, you can still vote! You do need to make sure to bring a valid ID, such as your passport.
Also, you can still vote for the elections in your home country. To do so, contact a mission or embassy of the country in question and they’ll happily supply you with the information you need to vote from abroad. Keep in mind that you might lose this right if you renounce your current citizenship in favour of a German citizenship in the future.
Let’s take a quick look at how the German political system works. Eventually, you’ll be able to go into more detail than this. Why? Well, because it’s part of the naturalisation exam you’ll be taking to get your German citizenship! Anyway:
The German political system is a federal democracy, with various political parties, an independent judiciary system, and different layers of regional and local governments throughout Germany’s states. Similarly to the USA, the individual German states get to determine some of the rules themselves, while others are determined on a federal (country) level.
So, who’s actually in charge? In the US, you’d say it’s the president of the country, but in Germany, that role is more ceremonial. Instead, it’s the Chancellor of the Bundestag who wields the real power. The Chancellor is always the leader of the party who has the most seats in the Bundestag. Since 2021, this is Olaf Scholz from the Social Democratic Party.
The German government is made out of 3 layers that each have their own elections.”
The 3 layers of the German government are the local municipalities, with officials like the city councils and mayors, followed by the federal states with officials that make the rules on a state level. Above both of those is the top level, the federal government which come up with legislation that is in effect all across the country. Let’s take a brief look at their election cycles:
The election for this takes place every 4-5 years and elects representatives for local and regional subsidiaries such as mayors. This is one of the elections you may vote in as an EU expat with a residence permit.
- the federal states (elected during the Landtagswahlen)
The state elections also take place every 4-5 years and elect representatives into the State assembly (Landtage) in each of the 16 states. This election is reserved for German citizens over the age of 18.
- the federal government (elected during the general elections or Bundestagwahlen)
The general election takes place every 4 years and distributes the 598 seats in the German federal parliament (Bundestag) over all the political parties. The one with the majority of the votes supplies the Chancellor. This election is also reserved for German citizens over the age of 18.
In some cases, you can have dual citizenship. In those cases, you’ll only be able to vote if Germany is your main country of residence at the moment. For example, if you live in the US, your rights as a German citizen are suspended until you once again settle in Germany.
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