After struggling to get the application submitted in time, I’ve received my postal ballot for the German election on 18 September. So now for part two in my public service explaination of the German electoral system.

Under the German Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system, I have two votes. The first vote is for a constituency MP (or rather “MdB”). Of the 598 members of the Bundestag, half are directly elected as constituency MdBs.

I’m entitled to vote in a fairly marginal constituency in North Rhine-Westphalia known as Oberbergischer Kreis. The Christian Democrat incumbent, Klaus-Peter Flosbach squeaked home in the 2002 election with 45.2 per cent of the vote, 2,945 votes (or 1.8 per cent) on an 81 per cent turnout of 210,055 potential voters. To avoid the “wasted-vote” arguments familiar to Brits, I basically have to chose between Flosbach and his SPD challenger, the wonderfully-named judo instructor Michaela Barbara Engelmeier-Heite.

But that’s OK, because I also have another vote — this one for the statewide party list. This vote determines the parties’ proportion of seats in the Bundestag. Here there is no chance of wasting my vote, unless I tick the box of a fringe party that takes less than the five per cent minimum needed to gain a seat.

There are 15 parties on the ballot. My realistic options are: Social Democrats, Christian Democrats, Liberal Free Democrats, the Green Party or the Left Party.

Only those top five of are likely to gain seats in the new Parliament. Further down the long ballot paper, it all gets a bit strange. The fringe list sadly includes a number of far-right parties that are or have been under surviellance by the Verfassungschutz: there are the Republicans (more-or-less Nazis), the Animal Rights Party, National Democrats (more Nazis), Family Party (socially conservative), Grey Party (oldies fighting the intergenerational struggle), Biblical Literalist Christian Party (Christian fundimentalists), Center Party (“oldest party in Germany founded 1870”), Civil Rights Movement Solidarity (led by the wife of Lyndon LaRouche), Union for Deutschland (still more far right loons), Marxist-Leninist Party (still advocating the “revolutionary overthrow of monopoly capitalism”), Party for Social Equality (Trotskyists who are proudly “a section of the Fourth International”).