Opinion: Spare a thought for those unable to vote in Germany | Opinion | DW | 22.09.2021

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Opinion: Spare a thought for those unable to vote in Germany

Every sixth resident in Germany can't vote in the Bundestag election. DW's Mikhail Bushuev says there needs to be more awareness for those who are sidelined.

A hand holding an election document against the backdrop of the German flag

What would the election look like if foreign nationals with permanent residency were allowed to vote?

Millions of Germans will be flocking to the polling stations on September 26 or have already cast their postal vote in the parliamentary election. I'm not one of those. While the reason for that is simple — I belong to the millions of permanent residents without a German passport — the feelings I have about it are more complicated.  

Just over 60 million residents with German passports are allowed to vote while some 9.5 million without them are not. Roughly every sixth resident in Germany pays taxes and contributes in many other ways to society but otherwise keeps a low profile — a large, but silent minority. What would Germany look like if all these people could vote? What are they thinking ahead of the elections?   

I'd love to have a say as someone who's interested in how this country addresses climate, economic and security challenges. However, I would have to give up my Russian passport to get German citizenship and for various reasons I haven't done that. So, what are people like me to do?

A right to vote for foreigners?  

One way to address the issue would be to begin campaigning for a right to vote for foreign nationals. The idea isn't new and while it has many advantages, granting an unlimited residence permit doesn't seem to be a realistic solution.

DW editor Mikhail Bushuev

DW editor Mikhail Bushuev

It sounds too pragmatic and potentially too divisive to get enough support, quite aside from the fact that it would face resistance from conservative voters and politicians alike. It would also require constitutional changes in a country which is deeply steeped in Chancellor Angela Merkel's policy of weiter so (keep it up) to maintain the status quo.  

The other way is less intrepid and could be implemented without stirring public protests. Why not give this silent minority a public voice? Even if they're not allowed to vote, they are part of Germany — socially, culturally and politically. They should have an influence on the vote.

It might be in the form of a regular survey or you could ask them to share their views in talk shows. It's all about raising awareness for both sides: German voters as well as foreign nationals.

A modest proposal

There is a plethora of reasons why people can't or don't want to apply for a German passport. It's an issue in and of itself. Raising awareness might, though, help to address the problem of the misrepresentation of people with Migrationshintergrund (foreign roots) in German politics.

It could also help to initiate a debate about why EU nationals are allowed to have a say in local or European Parliament elections but can't exercise this right when it comes to national elections. 

Maybe it's time to take the next step and reform voting rights across the European Union. 

Watch video 04:25

How do the German elections work?

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