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German Voters Hit The Polls For Election That Will Determine Merkel's Replacement

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

It's voting day in Germany. And it's looking to be a closely divided election. At stake is who will succeed longtime Chancellor Angela Merkel. Polls closed at 6 p.m., noon Eastern. The official tally is expected later today. Germany has a multiparty system, meaning the parties with the most votes today will enter coalition talks. Those negotiations could take months. NPR's Rob Schmitz is in Berlin, watching the results come in. We spoke earlier this morning as he was out with voters heading to the polls.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Yeah, this is actually a youth community center, and it's one of hundreds in the city where Germans can vote. And, Lulu, this is a pretty low-tech affair. You enter your voting booth. You tick the boxes of the candidate of the party and the candidate you want in pen. You for the paper, and then you just put it in a ballot box. I've been outside this polling site for a few hours, and there has been a steady line of people since it opened at 8 this morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What are people telling you?

SCHMITZ: Well, let me introduce you to Vescela Krestova (ph). She came to vote with her whole family. They are naturalized Germans, originally from Bulgaria. And she's voting in her first election as a German citizen.

This is your first election that you're voting in.

VESCELA KRESTOVA: Yes, that's right.

SCHMITZ: Is it exciting?

KRESTOVA: Very exciting.

SCHMITZ: And you brought your two children.

KRESTOVA: Yeah, he's very curious. He was very disappointed because he just understood he would not be able to vote until he's 18.

SCHMITZ: And Krestova says even though she's in line to vote, she's still undecided about which party she wants to lead Germany. She's stuck between the Social Democrats and their candidate, Olaf Scholz, and the Green Party.

KRESTOVA: I'm very torn (laughter).

SCHMITZ: Why?

KRESTOVA: Well, I like Scholz because of his initiative on taxes for the international minimum tax level, but I'm not so sure how strong they will be on climate.

SCHMITZ: And, Lulu, just to add some context here, Scholz and the Social Democrats are calling for a global minimum corporate tax rate of more than 20%. And even though he has campaigned on tackling climate change, many voters I've spoken to here say they prefer to vote for the Green Party in this election because they believe it's the only party that offers a real change from the path that Germany's been on for years with Angela Merkel.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, speaking of Angela Merkel, she is stepping down after 16 years, which is such a long time in politics. She's been called the most powerful woman in the world. What are voters telling you about her and her legacy?

SCHMITZ: Well, here in Berlin, for the most part, voters I'm speaking to are saying they will not really miss her that much. You know, it's important to note here that this is Berlin. It's a very liberal German city where people typically vote for either the Greens or for Die Linke - a far-left party that has ties to the old Communist Party from East Germany. And Merkel's party is more of a conservative one, so it's not too surprising they feel this way. I spoke to voter Katja Louke (ph) about Merkel, and here's what she said.

KATJA LOUKE: Maybe when we see what will be the result of this election - maybe we'll win this. (Laughter) Or I don't know. She's not my chancellor. She was not my chancellor. For me, her best action was 2015 and people that were refugees, refugees that were coming to Germany - I think that was the good point that she did.

SCHMITZ: And, Lulu, she's talking here about Merkel's decision in 2015 to allow hundreds of thousands of migrants from war-torn parts of the Middle East and North Africa to resettle here in Germany. Of course, that decision also divided Germany, and it led to the rise of the far-right. But now, six years later, Germany's far-right party has less support. And instead, we're seeing several parties hovering in the double digits, all below 25% or so on polling. So it should be an interesting evening to see what happens when the polls close. And even when we do know the final results, then the party in the lead will have to embark on the hard work of finding a new government.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We'll leave it there. That's NPR's Rob Schmitz. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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