This morning, we got up early and went to the polling place right at 7 a.m. Here in CA, there was only a short line of maybe 10 people ahead of us and I breathed a sigh of relief that I didn’t have to spend a big part of my day standing in line like I had seen all weekend during early voting in other states.

I’ve been voting in (German) elections for a long time and while I’ve always taken my right to vote seriously, I have never felt so excited about being able to vote and take part in the democratic process as I have today. I was excited and a little too giddy this morning to be able to vote for my president.

Some of you probably have wondered if voting in the US is any different from voting in Germany. At first glance, the voting process is pretty similar, but there are some differences. I am not going to give you the complete run-down between the different political systems (J would be much better at this than my measly try). All you need to know is a few key differences.

In Germany, you automatically get “registered” (if you want to called it that) to vote when you turn 18.  As soon as you hit legal age, you’ll receive a voter card in the mail before every election. There is no registering for a specific party. This is due to the fact that in Germany, you register with your city of residence and therefore you’re always ‘registered’ and they’ll take care of your voter mail.

The process then is pretty similar over all. We also vote every four years, but by law the election day in Germany MUST fall on a Sunday or public holiday, to ensure that people are free and able to go out and vote. There is also the possibility of voting by mail, which has to be requested prior to the election.

The ballot that I filled out this morning looked pretty similar to the ballots I have cast in Germany. The only difference, however, is that in Germany you mark a circle with an “x” while in the US, you have to completely fill in the oval next to your selected vote.

There are NO propositions (ballot measures, referendums, whatever you may call it) on ballots in Germany. The propositions that are managed on a state-by-state level in the US do not exist. In general, decisions about new laws and amendments are always handled by the elected representatives. There can be occasional non-binding ballot question, which can be taken into consideration by the elected officials, however, they have no direct impact on any pending laws.

Germany is a federal parliamentary democracy (as opposed to the presidential democracy in the United States) and the Chancellor, elected by the parliament and not directly by the people, is the head of government. The President of Germany is the head of state, which however has more of a representational role than a governing one.

Germany has a true multi-party system (with multiple smaller parties represented in the parliament) that has been dominated by the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). Both of those two main parties are ideologically to the left of even the democratic party of the United States. Yeah, can you believe that? Our conservatives are more left than your lefties (that’s why we have universal healthcare, gay marriage, unions, and such. Go figure.) In recent years, as no one party is strong enough to achieve a majority in the parliament on its own, they engage in coalition talks with the smaller parties after the election to form a government.

The United States is a presidential democracy, in which the President is the head of state AND head of government.

There are major differences between the political system of the United States and that of most other democracies. These include greater power in the upper house of the legislature, a wider scope of power held by the Supreme Court, the separation of powers between the legislature and the executive, and the dominance of only two main parties. Third parties have less political influence in the United States than in other developed country democracies (Wikipedia).

There is more to the political system of both countries, but I don’t want to get into the nitty-gritty details. I just want to mention that I personally am not a fan of the Electoral College. It seems counterproductive to have the people vote for the president, then have their votes reduced to the majority vote of their state and then award all the delegates to only candidate (but I guess that’s a post for another day after I have taken another PoliSci lesson from my husband).

If you have any more questions about the differences to the German election system, ask away. I’ll try to answer to the best of my knowledge.

Oh, and also: FOUR MORE YEARS! He did it! So proud.

  1. I love your picture!!

    And thank you for this lesson, even I as a German learned something new and can finally explain to my husband how voting really works in Germany. (Well, I will just let him read your post :)).

  2. Wait. Germany has a PRESIDENT? How did I not know this? And this is going to sound stupid, but what does it mean to be just a head of state? And not head of government?

    God I hate politics. So confusing.

  3. Thanks for the knowledge, San! I can always count on you.

  4. Ooooh, thanks for this civics lesson. I’m kind of shocked the US liberals really aren’t all that liberal when compared to the German system. That fascinates me (and makes me want to consider Germany in addition to Canada as my flight destination should the US Conservatives ever wreak havoc on our system). =)

  5. Thank you for telling us about the government and election process in Germany! That’s very interesting. I’ve heard similar stories about lefty parties in other countries. It’s amazing to me that the rest of the world has been able to find a middle ground on social issues but we just can’t seem to do the same! Sigh…

    Hooray for President Obama!

  6. This comparison was very interesting. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Woohoo – first time voter!!!! Congratulations!
    I was surprised myself about how much more excited I got than I ever did when voting in Germany…..?!

  8. This was such an interesting post to read! I really enjoyed reading about Germany’s political system. I think it’s really eye-opening knowing even our liberals are considered tame to Germany’s conservatives!

    And SO HAPPY you got to vote and exercise your right! What a special day for you. :)

  9. On another note, you’re wearing the prettiest necklace. :)

  10. Great post! So glad he made it as well! Yay!

    Oh, and I love your necklace! Have a wishbone necklace as well! It’s my fave! xxx

  11. I think it’s awesome that you care so much about American politics. Congrats on participating in your first American election! :D

  12. what a fun perspective on everything, love this San.

  13. Love your picture and love that you shared some of the differences. I admit I’m pretty ignorant when it comes to the the way the governments of other nations are run and the way election processes differ as well, so it’d neat to hear how Germany differs from the US.

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