Red envelopes are fluttering into the mailboxes in millions of households these days – they contain the voting documents for the 2023 social elections. It has been a core part of German democracy for 70 years, and around 52 million people are allowed to vote on important issues until May 31, 2023 such as health and pension. But what exactly is the election all about?

What is the social choice?

The social election is the third largest election in Germany – after the federal election and the European election. Insured persons and pensioners elect the highest decision-making bodies for health, nursing care, pension and accident insurance. In the case of the health insurance companies, this body is the board of directors, in the case of the other social insurance companies it is the assembly of representatives.

What do the social parliaments do?

The parliaments of the insured draw up the budget and elect the board and management. They also decide on health insurance services or the quality of rehabilitation offers, bonus programs, optional tariffs or the inclusion of new early detection examinations.

Who can vote in social elections?

Around 52 million people in Germany are entitled to vote. Members of the five substitute health insurance funds (Techniker Krankenkasse, DAK-Gesundheit, Barmer, KKH and Handelskrankenkasse HKK) as well as the German Pension Insurance Association can vote. Anyone who pays contributions to both the pension insurance and one of the health insurance companies can even vote twice.

Young people from the age of 16 can also vote if they are independently insured – for example as an apprentice. Unlike other elections, nationality is irrelevant. So even people without a German passport can cast their votes, provided they live in Germany.

How does the online election work?

In a pilot project, insured persons can also vote online for the first time with the substitute health insurance companies. You will find a QR code on the voting documents. Voters can prove their identity with the insurance number on the health card or with their ID card, provided the online function is activated. Otherwise you can also tick a ballot paper and send it back in the red and already stamped envelope.

The Federal Commissioner for Social Elections, Peter Weiß, hopes that the online voting option will result in a slightly higher turnout than in the 2017 social elections, when turnout was around one third. Younger people in particular should be reached more intensively.

Who can be elected?

There are no political parties to choose from, only lists. There are no people on the ballot, but organizations that want to send candidates to self-government. These are usually trade unions, but also church employee organizations or approved communities in which insured persons have organized themselves. The health insurance companies usually have four to six lists. Voters have one vote, which they can use to tick a list. The results of the election should be available in June.

A novelty this time is a women’s quota of 40 percent on the health insurance companies’ electoral lists. For the other branches of social insurance, the 40 percent quota is only a recommendation. “Women get sick differently, have different needs,” said Doris Barnett, deputy federal election commissioner for social security elections. “That’s why it’s good that we introduced gender quotas.”

Why is social choice important?

The elected men and women make important fundamental decisions in pension and health insurance. It becomes concrete for insured persons, for example, when it comes to filing an objection or applying for disability pensions. The chairwoman of the board of the association of substitute funds, Ulrike Elsner, points out that self-government manages an annual budget of around 300 billion euros in health insurance alone. “The course of the fund is determined by the self-government.”