Wir Wahlen!


Wir Wahlen!

I voted. 

Yes, I voted here in Germany. I have been bitching and moaning about my lack of power for years. I always figured without renouncing my citizenship I would have to forfeit any opportunity to ever vote in German elections. However, Wahl 2020 was my chance to vote as an outsider. Integrationswahl is a once every five year opportunity to vote for a council called the Integrationsrat that exclusively works on issues that effect those who have immigrated to Germany. You may participate with or without German citizenship for Integrationswahl. Here is more information about the Integrationsrat and its origins. This was posted by Each One Teach One EOTO (both are accessible in English) a diversity organization located here in Germany. Didn't vote? Well allow me to tell you all about my experience and how it compares to voting in the U.S. of A so in five years you can try it...

To start I received a letter about a month or so ago stating I could vote by mail or come to my local "precinct" on September 13th which is Wahl Day for all in NRW. Unlike America which typically has their biggest election poll on a single Tuesday for all citizens nationwide, Germany plays it safe. Normally, each state votes on a different date which is well planned out in advance with a wahl calendar. Yes, there are local, state and national elections as well as the one for the EU. Regardless of how big the election, voting in Germany is typically held on Sundays when nothing is open so people can actually take the time to go vote without other conflicts. You can also vote by mail which is more in favor during the pandemic. I would have preferred this as I normally voted early or by mail back home B.C. (before Covid). But my doting German husband insisted I go see for myself. And in all honesty I kept thinking going "to see" about an election will get you nothing by bad luck and frustration in the States. But I do have an obligation of sorts to tell others what to expect. Ya know the five people that follow me on social media and the two people I remain in contact with from my Integrations course. 

We learned so little about German politics in that course and it was basically implied that we would never have any rights to democracy while suffering integrating. I honestly stopped paying attention after 
one too many exercises where we assumed our perspective political party by picking from a series of unsavory quotes. Anything uttered by an imaginary Herr Müller is going to be conservative and messy so of course everyone in the room will be Left or Green. I don't care for the two party system in America or how our elections work in general. But I do feel Germany needs to stop pushing outdated values on certain demographics of people which keep certain parties in power. This is just like Republicans targeting Latinos and Asians who are first and second generation immigrants in the U.S. I totally noticed here in Köln that the Grüner Party slummed in the Belgian Viertal while the CDU strong armed the pensioners in Sülz and Zollstock. If I had to randomly go vote for the Mayor - the campaign pushers, party affiliations and politically correct faces are everywhere. Even in the midst of a pandemic these people are on the ground, physically going to their constituents homes and pushing their candidates. It isn't a propaganda level of campaigning here but there is just enough for whatever candidate to get noticed in time for the election. In the States, we are inundated with party and candidate information for years before an election. The candidates themselves are groomed for office their entire lives. The parties endorse who they want regardless of popularity with the people. So I do not know why they fundraise and campaign to the point Americans are sick of hearing about them. I saw campaigning here for other roles in politics but not for the Integrationsrat. There was absolutely nothing advertised about this. There were 29 choices on the ballot and people invited didn't even get as much as a sample ballot at home. I had to go and do the research myself to figure out what and who I was voting for. I mean that is normal but I am not used to being left to my own devices in an election. 

Oh the irony...

In all my piss poor experiences here, changes in discrimination law and the Afrozensus - there was never any mention of an Integrationsrat!? In essence, there really is an elected committed, chosen by their peers, to advocate for the rights of people immigrating to Germany. The 29 candidates were from all over but none were American and only a few were African. There were also groups who ran together which didn't give me much insights on the individuals within the group and how they will serve if all elected. The only info provided is where someone was from, what they studied and what their career was. That doesn't tell me much about what they can actually do for someone like me. Most candidates were Turkish German and while I do appreciate that there is another majority culture here in Germany ... I do not know if they will fight for me as much as someone Black or English speaking would. I also wonder how many people were deterred from voting for this very same reason and out of 29 options only a few seemed to meet their personal needs. Also what about those without language proficiency or having issues with immigration who will avoid that invitation letter? Allegedly, there are 30K people in Köln alone that were eligible to vote for the Integrationsrat and possibly both or all elections. But is anyone perhaps the current council keeping tabs on who is aware of their voting rights, taking advantage of the opportunity and well versed on their options? I doubt it. 

Moving on...

Going to vote is similar to the States, you are assigned a poling place or precinct. It would be listed on the letter and looks as if everyone brings their letter with them. I had a local gymnasium not too far from my house. In the States I have voted at country clubs, churches, libraries ... you name it. There was once a polling place in a local park. So like normal you physically go there and there may be a wait. Polls are open from 8:00am to 18:00pm or 6pm. In America peak hours would be at opening around 7:00am and after 17:00pm or 5pm because everyone is off work but if you are in line before polls close they cannot make you leave and your vote must be counted. Again, Sundays make it really easy to relax and wait. There seemed to be a really long line for this particular election. Unfortunately, it was just the combination of Covid social distancing and three different elections that made it seem lengthy. There were three ballots simultaneously - one for the Integrationsrat, another for a local city council and the Mayor. And this varied for those in outlying neighborhoods like Lindenthal or Roderkirchen. However, things appeared to be organized like I am used to. Several rooms for different groups of voters, poll workers with massive binders of address lists and the usual science fair privacy divider for casting your vote. But there was that degree of secrecy and stuffiness like at the Ausländerbehörde with people just queuing, not speaking and of course it being unbearably hot. Yesterday was 27C/81F.

The major difference was waiting in a mask without the niceties like back home. I have waited four hours plus to vote before but in air conditioning and with small talk. In some spaces there was entertainment, wi-fi etc. Here there was none of the above just silently waiting in a cramped, hot hallway. Wearing a mask, in that confined space and at those temperatures was really grueling. It would have been far easier with someone to talk to or access to the internet. The moment I got to the end of that line was about five seconds from me calling it quits. I was visibly sweating and I never expected to be that uncomfortable. I wore decent shoes, I had my phone but I was just too damn hot to bear that experience much longer. And upon entering the room I realized why it was taking so long. There was only one voter per room allowed. And if that particular voter had multiple ballots they would be in there for a lot of time. Otherwise, the system was exactly the same. A poll worker to make sure you are eligible, another to give you your appropriate ballot and then someone to make sure your vote was counted. It was pretty much exactly the same. 


No one checked my ID - not my residency card or passport. Again, I had this letter but in the States there would be some validation of who I was. The ballot wasn't on a shelf surrounded by forty other ballot options - in fact it had nothing on it identifiable to me to make it such an ordeal. They asked did I have a pen which I did but I honestly didn't want to look for it so I took one - there was a minimal hodgepodge of pens not anything exclusive. That would never be a thing in America as the pens are considered special and always provided. You X'd instead of filled in the ballot choice(s). And the count part didn't involve any machines. There was also no privacy envelope just a big box you folded your ballot and slid in like a student government election or raffle. And the old man monitoring this process could give me no confirmation and there were no stickers. When I left no one gave me a high five or asked who I voted for. Instead I took the shorter way home on my own two feet. I waited for about 45 minutes and you could make that an hour and half long adventure if you counted my trek there and back - I walk really, really slow. Not bad considering past elections. And I know my vote somewhat counted because my husband is a poll worker. And he claimed things went smoothly as they do year after year here. And because of the nature of how the votes are counted there are runoff elections incase two candidates get both half of the votes. 

So about the poll workers...

I am not going to go into details of poll worker eligibility or pay. Just know average worker is way younger than it is back home. I only encountered one decrepit poll worker while the majority seemed all under the age of 50. I even had one speak English to me without asking or even implying the need. I figured the pay must be handsome to have so many young and hip people working the polls. Unfortunately, it is way less than rates in the States. I honestly thought American poll workers were volunteers but they are getting paid quite well and experienced, seasonal election office employees have a generous hourly salary. I cannot see Americans being eager to get what my husband mentioned is paid here. Also he mentioned they are normally paid in bar/cash but thanks to Covid they must endure a Konto transfer. And if you factor in the length of time those take being a poll worker in Deutschland isn't that hot. I'll assume those in the States are paid via direct deposit or hard check. But maybe individual election offices and polling precincts have perks like catered lunch. My husband received a stipend based on their location and to be honest the food there isn't worth it. But I could see Americans pooling for pizza or there being some sort of pot luck. But alas with Covid who knows. 

So what did I learn? 

I learned that democracy is virtually the same everywhere and the #integrationsratwahl2020 doesn't need an extra r. My live tweets are deleted off Twitter now because of that spell check blunder. I wasn't alone though but I do have a brand to uphold. Seems as if a lot of people were eligible to vote for the first time yesterday and very proud and excited by their ability to participate. So there are a lot of hashtags and videos about it on my feed today. And in my opinion things went well especially in comparison to #Warntag2020 which was a fiasco that nobody had any say in. I am glad that so many people came out despite Covid and all I hope to see whoever is elected to this council actually do great things for us in the NRW. And now that I am an actual participant I will definitely be bitching and moaning to whomever is elected instead of my poor husband. Jawohl!

Ihre Stimme Zählt!