One of the biggest international news stories today is that the Pirate Party in Germany managed to do very well in the Berlin state Parliament election. From the Wired.co.UK:

The German arm of the International Pirate Party saw a momentous victory in this week’s Berlin state elections, as the internet activist group won 15 seats in regional parliament.

The group — which was founded to promote privacy, free speech, data protection and file sharing online — won 8.9 percent of the vote, beating out chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition partner the Free Democrats who captured just two percent.

The Germany paper Der Spiegel called the Pirate Party’s surprisingly strong performance an “historic victory,” and the Economist said the Pirate Party’s signficant share of the vote was the “real story” of yesterday’s election.

A 9 percent vote for the Pirate Party is a big deal in Germany, because unlike the USA Germany uses a proportional representation election system with a 5 percent vote threshold. By crossing that threshold the Pirate Party was for the first time able to win a number of seats in the legislature, giving it the ability to possibly influence policy.

If elections in Germany used single member district with a first-past-the post system, like that used in Congressional and state legislative elections in the United States, instead of winning an historic 15 seats in the Berlin parliament the Pirate Party would have likely won zero seats from their 8.9 percent popular vote.

The design of the election laws can thus mean the difference between getting 8.9 percent of the vote being a historic win or big defeat. The highly limiting design of our election laws is why, unlike Europe, we aren’t seeing new smaller political parties winning seats at a time when the American people are very disappointed with both the Democratic and Republican parties.