The period under review here saw a number of important elections. Most important were the general elections held on September 27, 2009, and the reelection of Federal President Horst Köhler (CDU) by the Federal Assembly on May 23 the same year. The Federal Assembly only convenes to elect the federal president and is composed of the members of the Bundestag and the same number of additional delegates nominated by the parliaments of the federal states. The federal president is thus not elected directly by the people. This absence of a direct legitimacy derived from the sovereign is unproblematic in our view. Germany’s president has mainly representative functions, and his or her opportunity to intervene in the legislative process is rare and limited to reviewing the procedural constitutionality of laws. Nevertheless, it is worth mentioning that there has been some discussion in the media dealing with the feasibility and desirability of electing the federal president directly. To sum up the debate, proponents of direct election have typically also argued for enhancing the federal president’s powers (cf. Sueddeutsche Zeitung: 25.5.2009).
Based on the requirement of German citizenship, people aged 18 or over are eligible to vote and to run for election to the Bundestag, provided that they have been resident in Germany for at least three months. The right to vote can be denied to criminals by judicial order, to persons without legal capacity or to convicts currently residing in a psychiatric hospital. Every citizen not falling under the stated exceptions and who is registered in the municipal civil registry is automatically included in the voter register. Because registration with local authorities in Germany is mandatory, this system operates without severe difficulties. In the run-up to the election, every registered citizen eligible to vote receives a notification with all required information necessary to exert his or her right to vote, as well as an application form for postal voting. Citizens not included in the civil registry, such as homeless people, are eligible to vote but have to apply to the authorities in order to be registered. No problems have been reported in recent years. There is no real doubt that the legal situation also describes administrative reality.
The grand coalition cabinet under Chancellor Angela Merkel introduced several amendments to the Federal Electoral Act – the last one in May 2009 – including the broadening of the right of Germans living abroad to vote. Beginning with the last election, German citizens abroad who have lived in Germany for at least three months have been able to apply to register for the vote with the authorities of their last domestic residence. If this is done at least 21 days before the election, they then can cast their votes by mail. Furthermore, the need to justify (i.e., give a valid reason for) the desire to cast votes by mail was abolished. These reforms can be seen as qualitative enhancements to an already high standard. Worth mentioning too are the efforts of authorities to facilitate voting for people with disabilities. In general, one can conclude that all adult citizens can participate in national elections if they so wish. Exceptions to this rule are scarce, and those that do occur are well considered and justified. Thus, no observable structural discrimination occurred in the period under review.