Quorum (politics)

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Under quorum ( Latin for their , genitive plural to Latin qui, quod, of which , plural , German quorums ) refers to the number of votes that may be achieved, in order for an election or vote shall take effect. Quorums are used both in representative democracy (in elections) and in direct democracy (in votes) and can be used not only in the state, but also in joint decisions in the private sphere, for example in associations, companies and in the family . The term “quorum” is predominantly related to votes, while elections are often referred to as a “minimum turnout”. A quorum is intended to ensure that there are no unrepresentative majorities in the event of low participation in an election or vote. If the necessary quorum is not achieved, the corresponding election or vote is deemed to be "unanswered", regardless of its result. H. a change in the status quo that may be sought will not be implemented in a regular manner. Formally, this is not a rejection of the submission, but in fact it usually has the same consequences, which is why it is sometimes referred to as a false failure .


All quorum regulations have in common that they are based on a 100% reference value and, based on this, define a hurdle to be overcome. For example, the number of persons entitled to vote, those who vote, the valid votes cast or the sum of the “yes” and “no” votes can be used as a reference value. The hurdle (the quorum) must define an absolute or relative amount (a fixed number or a percentage) that is smaller than the total amount of the reference variable.

In the political science distinction is made between several different types of quorums.

Participation quorum

The “participation quorum”, also referred to as “presence quorum”, “present quorum” or “voting quorum”, requires a minimum participation of voters in an election or vote. The quorum can either refer to the participation of an absolute number of voters (e.g. that 1,000,000 voters take part in a vote) or to a certain percentage of the total number of voters (e.g. that 50% of the Invite voters to vote).

Participation quorums can be found in the rules of procedure of all German parliaments (Bundestag and state parliaments) as well as in the statutes of many associations. In parliaments, a quorum of 50% is often provided, in many association statutes a quorum of 10%. If the quorum is not achieved, the voting body is deemed not to have a quorum . This regulation is intended to ensure that a small minority of those entitled to vote cannot pass resolutions in the absence of a majority .

In referendums at the state level, a participation quorum of 50% for constitutional amendments is only provided in North Rhine-Westphalia, and 25% for simple laws in Rhineland-Palatinate. In Germany there are no longer any participation quorums at the municipal level. At the beginning of 2010, Berlin was the last federal state to replace the previously valid participation quorum of 15% with a 10% approval quorum. There is no minimum voter turnout (read: participation quorum) in Germany for elections to the German Bundestag or to the state parliaments. The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe recommends in the Code of Good Practice on Referendums that no participation quorums be provided for referendums.

Even if participation quorums are very rarely found in elections outside of parliaments in Germany, they were used or discussed on a selective basis. In 2004, the then Education Minister Udo Corts in Hesse tied the full amount of financial support to the Hessian ASten to achieving a participation quorum of 25% in the elections to the student parliament . At the time, many student interest groups saw this change as an attempt to stop resistance to tuition fees by drying up financially.

In its program for the 2009 Bundestag elections, the FDP advocated the introduction of a 50% participation quorum in the formation of works councils, known as the “electoral quorum”. A works council should only be set up if half of all employees in a company take part in the relevant election. The FDP wanted to relieve the middle class of the "costs of co-determination ". The proposal was criticized by the trade unions as an attempt to undermine workers' rights (see also below under criticism ).

Approval quorum

The "approval quorum", sometimes also referred to as the "consensus quorum", requires the approval of a certain percentage of votes. Depending on the formulation of the approval quorum, the number of voters or those present serves as a reference (100%). In the case of a referendum with an approval quorum of 25% of those entitled to vote, this means that a quarter of those entitled to vote must approve the proposal in the referendum, otherwise it is deemed not to have been accepted. Regardless of this, in order to accept the proposal, more “yes” votes than “no” votes must of course be cast. The quorum is always an additional hurdle, not a substitute for a majority .

In the German Bundestag there is a quorum of approval of two thirds of the members of parliament for constitutional amendments; this is also known as a “ two-thirds majority ” or “constitutional majority”.

In referendums, eleven federal states provide for a quorum of approval for simple laws, the amount fluctuating between 15% (North Rhine-Westphalia) and 33.3% (Baden-Württemberg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania). In the case of constitutional changes, an approval quorum of 50% is very often provided. At the municipal level, i.e. for referendums, the municipal codes of 14 federal states provide for approval quorums between 10% (Bavaria and Thuringia) and 30% (Bremerhaven, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland). The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe recommends in the Code of Good Practice on Referendums that no approval quorum be provided for referendums.

Rejection quorum

The "rejection quorum" is the mirror image of the "approval quorum". This means that a proposal will only be rejected if the opponents of the proposal not only have a majority of the votes cast, but also a certain percentage of the total votes. As with the approval quorum, the number of voters or those present can be used as a reference value (100%). Due to the prevailing understanding of democracy in Germany, namely that changes and not maintenance of the status quo always require a justification (i.e. support by the majority of all voters), an outspoken "rejection quorum" is practically nowhere used in Germany.

Anti-proportional quorum

An “anti-proportional quorum” or “variable quorum” is not based on fixed quorums, but is based on the degree of participation in an election or vote. The higher the level of participation, the lower the quorum to be skipped. The model was developed by the political scientist Thorsten Hüller and is intended to achieve the desired protective effect of a quorum without showing the sometimes serious disadvantages of the existing procedures. Since the degree of participation forms the basis, such a variable setting of the quorum level can only take place with an approval or rejection quorum. Correspondingly, the number of persons entitled to vote or those present can be used as reference values ​​(100%).

A "variable quorum" in the form developed by Thorsten Hüller is currently not provided for in any public election or vote in Germany. However, in Bavaria and Thuringia there is an approval quorum of 10 to 20% for referendums according to the number of inhabitants in the municipality. This regulation is intended to take into account the fact that the larger a municipality, the more difficult it is to mobilize the population for a referendum. For this reason, a lower quorum applies to larger cities, depending on the number of inhabitants.

More quorums

  • With the reform of the petition law on September 1, 2005 and the introduction of public online petitions to the German Bundestag, a petition quorum was introduced. If a petition finds 50,000 signatories in four weeks , it must be dealt with publicly (unless a two-thirds majority of the petitions committee is against it). For parliamentary citizens' initiatives at the Austrian National Council, a petition quorum of 500 signatures is provided for treatment in the Petitions Committee. In contrast to the quorums for elections and votes, the petitions quorum does not refer to the acceptance, rejection or non-handling of a proposal, but only to the further course of the procedure.
  • A quorum of signatures applies to petitions for citizens and plebiscites . So has an absolute or relative number of signatures collected voter so by a desire a civil or referendum can be brought about. This is to ensure that questions that are submitted to the entire electorate for decision are of general social relevance. Even if the amount of the quorum of signatures is often the central point of contention in the political debates about the concrete design of direct democracy, its fundamental necessity is not questioned by any side. The amount of the signature quorum varies in Germany, depending on the federal state and political level , between 2% and 15% for citizens' petitions (see overview ) and between approx. 4% and 20% for referendums.
  • A special type of quorum is the women's quorum , which is used in particular for internal party elections in Germany's CDU . A quota for women was decided in the Greens as early as 1979: at least half of all offices should be women. In 1988, the SPD resolved a 40% quota for women for offices and mandates.


The question of whether or not to approve or reject quorums in elections and referenda sparked a polyphonic debate in Germany. In a somewhat simplistic way, different conceptions of the term “democratic majority ” form the basis for this. At the core of the question is whether an election or voting result is democratically legitimized only by the majority of those entitled to vote or already by the majority of those who vote.

The proponents of quorums refer to the majority of those entitled to vote and accordingly emphasize the important function of quoras in avoiding unrepresentative majorities. In the event of a low voter turnout, the massive mobilization of a partial public by well-organized groups, or even just by pure chance, could lead to a distortion. Under these conditions, the result may not represent the general public will, but only individual “special interests”.

The opponents of quorums assume that an election or vote is sufficiently legitimized by the majority of the voters. One could not start from a mere presumed will of the community, but must refer to the actually expressed will of the voters. Those entitled to vote who refrain from expressing their will in the election or vote give the voters who are actively participating in the democratic process an implicit mandate to decide.

General criticism

However, because of this fundamental contradiction in terms of the majority concept, quorums are repeatedly criticized for a wide variety of reasons. In general, the assumption is more often expressed that quorums, the effects of which are essentially important for direct democracy, are intended to specifically contribute to its ineffectiveness. The failure of referendums on quorums is quite a frequent occurrence, while they hardly play a role in the work of parliaments, since the majority relationships are usually clear in the run-up to a vote. In addition, quorums prevented overall societal political learning processes, as they would give many votes to a virtual simulation. The awareness, which is necessary for the functioning of a democracy, that voting results have real consequences for a society, is undermined by quorums and a dubious handling of democratic processes is promoted.

Advocates of the quorums claim that they prevent well-organized minorities from asserting themselves against majorities and, as it were, overwhelm them with a new law or even disenfranchise them. Critics consider this unrealistic, because this argument is based on the assumption that a referendum remains hidden from the majority or does not consider it necessary to take part in sufficient numbers. There is also no reason to doubt the representativeness of the decision because the quorum has not been reached.

If one follows the democratic majority principle , quorums can distort the result of the vote and even turn it into the opposite, in that, from a logical point of view, abstentions are treated as dissenting votes. Quorums assume that citizens who abstained would have voted no if they had participated. This is criticized above all as patronizing the citizens who are believed to be voting behavior that does not correspond to the facts. Those who abstain behave neutrally and leave the decision to the citizens who take part in the vote. Its vote is therefore not to be added to the no or yes votes. It is also a violation of the laws of logic , according to which the three possible answers to a question (positive, negative, neutral, or yes, no, abstention) must be strictly separated.

It is also criticized that the number of votes required to achieve the quorum is often higher than the number of votes that would be behind the mayor and the majority in the local council after elections behind a government and the coalition in parliament or at local level . As a result, higher hurdles would apply to direct democratic decisions such as referendums or referendums than to voting by the people's representatives ; the democratic principle of popular sovereignty would be taken ad absurdum , democracy would be devoid of real rule by the demos and thus be empty of content.

In the event of a so-called “spurious failure” of a vote, the democratic principle of equality of votes or the principle of equality , which in Germany only applies to elections, but not to votes, according to the Basic Law, would also be violated. One speaks of “false failure” when the majority of the voters vote yes, but the quorum is not achieved. An example: If in a referendum 80% vote for the proposal and only 20% against, but the required quorum has not been achieved, this can be perceived as if the minority were upgraded to a majority and the majority downgraded to a minority. Mathematically, this would mean that the votes of the majority would be devalued by a factor of approximately 0.6, while the votes of the minority would be overrated by more than 2.5 times. This inequality would be higher, the higher the difference between majority and minority. For example, the referendum in Berlin on the disclosure of the partial privatization contracts at the Berliner Wasserbetriebe almost failed due to the approval quorum of 25%. This would have meant that a very large majority of 98.2% of the votes cast against a small minority of 1.7% of the votes cast (the remainder invalid) would have lost due to the non-participation of almost 75% of the voters. The referendum on the remunicipalisation of Berlin's energy supply actually failed, despite a large majority of 83%, only just about the quorum, which means that the majority has been reinterpreted as a minority.

Because of this unequal valuation of the votes in the event of a false failure and because quoras only ever apply to one side in a vote, they are also viewed as discrimination .

Specific criticism of certain quorums

In addition to the fundamental criticism of quorums, specific expressions are also repeatedly criticized. Participation quorums in particular develop a special dynamic of their own, which brings with them several fundamental problems of democracy. For the opponents of a proposal submitted to a participation quorum appears against the background that is politically wiser to call their supporters to abstention, that is to boycott the entire democratic process.

As an example: In a fictitious vote, a participation quorum of 50% applies. Surveys show that 45% of eligible voters want to speak out in favor of the proposal, 10% against and the remaining 45% have no opinion on it. It is clear to the opponents of the proposal that they not only cannot outvote the supporters in the vote, but also help them to successfully overcome the quorum through their participation (45% yes votes + 10% no votes = 55% turnout). The votes of the opponents of the bill have a negative voting weight . If the opponents of the bill want to prevent the bill, then they must not vote against the bill, but have to boycott the election. Choose e.g. If, for example, nine out of ten of the potential “no” voters use the boycott of the vote, they can assert themselves despite their minority position by reducing the voter turnout below the required quorum (45% yes votes + 1% no votes = 46% turnout ). A participation quorum can, under certain circumstances, create incentives for non-participation in democratic processes and thus tends to have an anti-democratic effect.

The purposeful boycott of those who vote against causes further problems with democracy: For example, the secrecy of the elections is in fact lifted because it is very likely that everyone who takes part in the vote will be among the “yes” voters. In addition, the participation quorum effectively eliminates the option of abstaining through non-participation, since the abstentions are effectively assessed as a “no” vote. The popular initiative for the expropriation of princes of 1926 in the Weimar Republic can be seen as a vivid example of the democratic problems described .

An approval quorum also provides incentives, albeit to a lesser extent, to primarily tactical voting behavior. If a failure to achieve the quorum seems very likely, it has a general demobilizing effect on all those entitled to vote. Since the motivation for the proponents of a proposal is usually higher, the approval quorum can also have the effect that the opponents of a proposal are much more difficult to mobilize and "rest" on the quorum, so to speak. This means that the opponents do not take part in the vote because they already assume that the proposal will fail due to the quorum. In extreme cases, this can lead to an approval quorum generating precisely the distortion of the will of the voters that the quorum was originally intended to avoid.



  • In the German Bundestag must, according to § 45 of the Bundestag Rules of Procedure more than half of the MPs to be present so that this constitutional body may take decisions. According to the various state constitutions, the same participation quorum currently also applies to all German state parliaments . Due to its structure as a working parliament focused on committee work , the stipulated participation quorum in the Bundestag is in fact constantly disregarded. For example, when voting on simple resolutions, only the members of the respective committees involved are usually present. If the quorum of the Bundestag is questioned by a parliamentary group before a vote, because "more than half" of the voters are present, the Presidium interrupts the session, calls all members into the plenary hall by a bell, and the vote is only after their Arrival carried out. This process is seldom, however, since overriding the 50% participation quorum in the Bundestag is tolerated by consensus among all parliamentary groups represented there and corresponds to the actual working practice of the members of parliament. Even votes with less than 5% attendance are “not uncommon”. B. on June 28, 2012 during a European Championship semi-final.
  • In the case of Bundestag votes , in some cases (election of the Federal Chancellor, constructive vote of no confidence , vote of confidence, rejection of an objection by the Federal Council in the case of laws that do not require approval), a majority of the MPs entitled to vote, the so-called Chancellor majority, is necessary . This approval quorum therefore requires 50% yes votes, based on the number of eligible voters.
  • A majority of at least two thirds of the members of the Bundestag with voting rights, the so-called “two-thirds majority” or “constitution-changing majority”, is required in Germany for a change to the Basic Law. This approval quorum therefore requires 66.7% yes votes, based on the number of eligible voters.
  • In some federal states, different quorums are combined with one another. In Baden-Württemberg, for example, a three-fold quorum must be met in order to change the state constitution. At least "two thirds of its members" must be present (participation quorum of 66.7% based on the number of its members), of which in turn "a two-thirds majority" must approve the constitutional amendment (approval quorum of 66.7% based on the total number of those present ), whereby this two-thirds majority “must be more than half of its members” (approval quorum of 50% based on the total number of members of the state parliament entitled to vote).
  • With the exception of Hamburg, referendums are subject to a quorum in all federal states, although the type and amount of the quorum vary widely.
  • With the exception of Bavaria and Saxony, referendums on simple laws are subject to a quorum in all federal states that varies greatly in type and amount. Referendums to amend the constitution are subject to a quorum in all federal states.


  • In the Austrian National Council , “at least one third” of the MPs must be present so that, for example, a simple law can be passed (participation quorum of 33.3%).
  • “At least half” of the MPs must participate if, for example, a constitutional law is to be passed or a persistent resolution is to be passed (participation quorum of 50% based on the total number of members).
  • Constitutional laws require the approval of "at least two thirds" of the MPs present (approval quorum of 66.7% based on the number of those present who are entitled to vote)
  • No minimum participation is required for referendums and elections at federal level and at state level in all federal states except Tyrol and Vienna. In the case of referendums at community level, participation quorums are only provided for in Burgenland and the city of Innsbruck.


  • Thorsten Hüller: Does the quorum rule? A proposal to solve a problem of direct democracy. In: Journal for Parliamentary Issues. (ZParl), issue 4/2006, pp. 823-833.
  • Hans-Detlef Horn: Majority in the plebiscite. as a prerequisite for a quorum of approval for referendums and citizens' decisions. In: The State. No. 38, pp. 399-422.
  • Otmar Jung: The quora problem in referendums. Legitimacy and efficiency in completing the popular legislation procedure. In: Journal of Political Science . 9th vol. (1999) No. 3, pp. 863-898.
  • Otmar Jung, Franz-Ludwig Knemeyer: In focus: Direct democracy. Munich 2001.
  • Frank Meerkamp: The quorum question in the people's legislative process. Wiesbaden 2011, ISBN 978-3-531-18064-9 .

See also

Web links

Wiktionary: Quorum  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Code of Good Practice on Referendums ( Memento of July 6, 2007 in the Internet Archive ) of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe
  2. cf. Section 78 Hessian Higher Education Act
  3. ^ Opinion "On the new version of the Hessian Higher Education Act" by FACHKRAFT, June 27, 2004 ( Memento of October 14, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
  4. cf., p. 11 of the FDP's Germany program for the 2009 Bundestag election ( memo of December 22, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF; 620 kB)
  5. see p. 16/17 of the statement of the DGB federal executive committee, department of co-determination and legal policy on the report of the "Commission for co-determination" by BDA and BDI , November 12, 2004 (PDF)
  6. ^ Code of Good Practice on Referendums ( Memento of July 6, 2007 in the Internet Archive ) of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe
  7. see Jung / Knemeyer pp. 115–119.
  8. See as an example Art. 18a Para. 12 Art. 18a Municipal Code for the Free State of Bavaria
  9. ^ German Bundestag: German Bundestag: Web archive. Retrieved April 3, 2017 .
  10. Guideline for the handling of public petitions at the German Bundestag ( Memento from April 4, 2017 in the Internet Archive )
  11. E-petition German Bundestag Quorum
  12. Section 100 Rules of Procedure for the National Council
  13. cf. on this Horn pp. 399–402.
  14. Jung pp. 875-878.
  15. cf. Jung pp. 867-868
  16. List of all referendums that have taken place in Germany (Mehr Demokratie eV) ( Memento from May 31, 2009 in the Internet Archive )
  17. Article from More Democracy North Rhine-Westphalia
  18. Press release from Mehr Demokratie Baden-Württemberg from July 29, 2010 ( Memento from October 15, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
  19. Position paper by More Democracy on the subject of quorum (PDF; 120 kB)
  20. Frank Meerkamp: The Quorenfrage popularly legislative procedure, Wiesbaden 2011th
  21. cf. Horn pp. 403-404.
  22. L. Himmelreich, L. Kinkel, HP Schütz: Posse to new reporting law: Government distances itself from government. In: stern.de . July 9, 2012, accessed February 12, 2015 . PS; ; 5% would be 31 MPs.
  23. Daniel plaintiff: Registration Act reveals the tricks of the deputies. In: handelsblatt.com . July 9, 2012, accessed February 12, 2015 .
  24. cf. Art. 64 para. 2 Constitution of the State of Baden-Württemberg
  25. Overview of the quorums for referendums by federal state (Mehr Demokratie eV) ( Memento from May 20, 2009 in the Internet Archive )
  26. Overview of the quorums for referendums by federal state (Mehr Demokratie e.V.) ( Memento from May 20, 2009 in the Internet Archive )
  27. Art. 39, Paragraph 4 of the Tyrolean Regional Code
  28. § 131c Paragraph 3 Vienna City Constitution
  29. Klaus Poier: Property Direct Democracy in Austria's state and local. An overview of the legal situation and empirical experience. In: Peter Neumann, Denise Renger (eds.): Material direct democracy in an interdisciplinary and international context 2008/2009. Germany, Austria, Switzerland. Nomos-Verlag, Baden-Baden 2010, ISBN 978-3-8329-5795-7 , p. 36ff.
  30. Burgenland: Municipal Code . In: more democracy! December 21, 2008 ( mehr-demokratie.at [accessed April 3, 2017]).
  31. ^ Tyrol: Innsbruck city law . In: more democracy! May 2, 2008 ( mehr-demokratie.at [accessed April 3, 2017]).