Know 'the signs' of a local election

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- It's a typical day in Rhineland-Pfalz. You're driving home from work when you pass by a certain poster. It's written in German, just like an advertisement, but you're not sure what the product is.

Thinking nothing of it, you see the same poster two minutes down the road, followed by several more with different colors, words, faces and even animals.

You're not quite sure if they're for a new reality TV show or a local battle of the bands--but you know one thing: all of them include the same date of September 22.

The multitudes of posters are actually not testimonials for new products but political advertisements made for the upcoming German national election this Sunday.

Their various pledges of unity and decision compete for the will of voters as they go to the polls for the 18th federal election since the formation of the republic in 1949. And the kaleidoscope of colors donning the posters also represents the multitude of viewpoints along the political spectrum, too.

According to their Constitution, the German Federal President selects a date, traditionally a Sunday in September or October, for the election of all 598 seats in the lower house of Parliament known as the Bundestag. On that single day, the voting population heads to their district's polling stations.

Like American elections, Germans cast their votes for who will represent them on a district basis. However, they also cast a second vote not for a person but a political party. Delegates to the Bundestag are selected depending on a party's share of the total votes cast within each of the country's 16 states. This is also why many posters feature the party's logo nearly equal to or greater than a candidate's face, if they feature the candidate at all.

Additionally, a party's seats in the Bundestag depend on whether it garners at least five percent of the total vote cast. This means while you may see posters from several different parties in cities and villages, there may be far fewer parties actually sent to the capital of Berlin after the vote. That threshold of representation is also why parties use these posters to get their "feet in the door" of voters' minds.

And, unlike American elections, Germans do not directly vote for their chancellor, or head of government, either. That man or woman is designated by whichever parties agree to form the largest majority in the government. This is another reason many posters feature their national party leaders, to put a face on whom may be the next leader of Germany.
Party volunteers and city garbage collectors usually have all the signs removed within days after the election. The roads around the country side should likely remain free of the posters for another four years or should another election be called, whichever happens first.

Regardless of which parties win Sunday, the sea of posters along the roads, just like the lines of voters casting their ballots, represents the democratic process and a tribute to the men and women of many nations who fought to preserve and defend it.