Web site to help undecided German voters

Before Germany’s federal elections last Sunday, undecided voters could visit a Web site designed to help them select a political party.

The “wahl-o-mat” or vote-o-mat site (www.wahlomat.de) presents potential voters with a list of 27 questions to determine their views on a variety of political issues including legalizing marijuana, dropping the ban on Sunday shopping, allowing voters to elect the German president directly and lowering nonwage labour costs.

After visitors answer the questions with a yes, no, neutral or no opinion, the wahl-o-mat program matches the answers to the parties currently represented in parliament and names the party that fits their political profile.

“With the program, we aren’t recommending a party but simply helping new or undecided voters find the party that supports most of their political views,” said spokesman Arne Richter for wahl-o-mat.

The program was organized by Germany’s Federal Agency for Civic Education, which promotes democratic awareness and political participation, and students of the Otto-Shur-Institute for Political Science at Berlin’s Free University. It was also supported by the Dutch Instituut voor Publiek en Politiek, responsible for developing the StemWijzer program on which wahl-o-mat is based.

Similar programs have surfaced elsewhere in Europe, including the U.K.

The German program drew huge attention after Harald Schmidt, a German late night comedian, recently mentioned the Internet service in one of his shows. So much, in fact, that the wahl-o-mat server crashed under a flood of visitors shortly after the broadcast.

To date, nearly 1.2 million people have completed the question catalogue, according to Richter. “We have deliberately decided not to collect any data about visitors to remain absolutely neutral,” he said. “Our aim is to provide a public service.”

Initially, wahl-o-mat had 88 questions but the group shortened the list by two-thirds after some parties declined to provide answers to the entire list, according to Richter. “We realized later that the list was a bit too long to begin with,” he said, “but we believe the questions now in the program are sufficient to help undecided voters find a party that reflects their political views.”