Germany’s voting system is complicated. So complicated that some Germans don’t even understand it. But its advocates argue that complexity actually makes Germany’s elections some of the fairest in the world. Like the U.S. government, the German federal government is made up of three main parts: the judiciary, the executive branch and the legislative branch. The legislative branch includes two chambers of parliament: the Bundesrat and the Bundestag. But Germans only vote directly for members of the Bundestag in federal elections. So that’s what we’ll focus on today. The Bundestag is the legislative branch of the German government, based here in Berlin. Think of it like the U.S. House of Representatives or the U.K. House of Commons. Every four years Germans vote to elect members of the Bundestag in parliamentary elections. There’s a base number of 598 seats up for election in the Bundestag. Here’s where it gets confusing. Germans are asked to cast not one, but two votes. On the left side of the ballot, Germans choose a member of parliament from their own constituency. Think of this like Americans voting for a congressperson in their district. There are 299 districts in Germany, so directly-elected representatives make up about half of the Bundestag. So if I’m a voter here in Cologne and I’ve got my ballot I get one vote for one candidate, here in my district. The second vote, on the right side of the ballot, is for a political party. This vote determines how the remaining 299 seats will be divided up among Germany’s various political parties. So back in Cologne I also get a second vote. This one goes towards one of Germany’s political parties, like the Social Democratic Party or the Christian Democratic Union. Political parties in Germany’s 16 states put together lists of candidates. The results from the second vote determine how many of these candidates will get off the list and get a seat in parliament. A party has to receive at least 5% of the second votes in a state to qualify for a seat. Cologne is in Germany’s most populous state, called North Rhine-Westphalia. About 18 million Germans live here. Because of that they get to fill the largest share of seats remaining in the Bundestag. Are you with me? Because here’s where it gets even more complicated. The number of seats in the Bundestag often actually exceeds 598. Sometimes Germans split their ballots, meaning they vote for a candidate from one party in their first vote and for a different political party in their second vote. This can throw off the balance of seats in parliament, so that one party is more strongly represented than they should be based on the results of the proportionate second votes. To make up for this Germans created something called “overhang” and “balance seats.” Basically these are extra seats in the Bundestag to make sure every candidate who was directly elected gets a seat, while at the same time making sure political parties are still proportionally represented, based on the number of votes they got. So right after the 2013 elections there were actually 631 seats in the Bundestag, including 33 overhang and balance seats. One of the first tasks of the newly-elected Bundestag is to vote for the most powerful person in Germany, the federal chancellor. But that’s easier said than done. To form a government, the chancellor needs to receive an absolute majority in parliament. That means getting more than half the votes of the members of the Bundestag. But Germany has a bunch of political parties so receiving more than half the seats in parliament is uncommon. That’s where a coalition comes in, where the biggest party teams up with other smaller political parties to get the votes they need. So after the 2013 elections, the CDU, Angela Merkel’s party, and the CSU, formed a coalition government with the Social Democrats. Once a coalition is formed members of parliament vote to elect the chancellor. It’s the chancellor who chooses members of his or her cabinet, which includes federal ministers similar to secretaries in the U.S. presidential cabinet. Chancellors serve four-year terms and don’t have term limits. Helmut Kohl is the longest-serving chancellor to-date. He was in office for 16 years. Okay, I know that was a lot, so why even bother with all of this complexity? To understand why, well, we have to look to the history books. Many Germans saw the failure of the Weimar Republic as the failure of the country’s fragmented parliamentary system. After World War II, the Federal Republic of Germany transferred power from the president toward the Bundestag and encouraged political majorities to pass legislation. Today the role of the German president is mostly ceremonial. And it’s harder for extremist parties to get in power with that 5% vote threshold. The German election structure has resulted in a stable government for more than 60 years. But stable definitely doesn’t mean simple. Hey guys, it’s Elizabeth, thanks for watching. You can check out more of our videos over here, including one about how Europe is responding to President Trump. We’re also taking your ideas for future CNBC Explains, so leave your suggestions in the comments section. And while you’re at it, subscribe to our channel. Auf wiedersehen.