According to the 1919 Weimar Constitution, the members of the Reichstag were to be elected by general universal suffrage according to the principle of proportional representation. Votes were cast for nationwide party lists. The term of the legislature was four years, however dissolution was common.
There was threshold for winning a seat in the Reichstag. In practice, a party could gain parliamentary representation 0.4 percent of the national vote, roughly 60,000 votes. While this provision was intended to reduce wasted votes, it also resulted in a large number of parties being represented in the chamber. Combined with the nationwide party-list system, this made it extremely difficult to form a stable government.
Moreover, each political party wanted to pull Germany in a different direction and parties often refused to compromise with, or even recognize, other parties. As scholar Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn wrote in 1943:
Catholic Centrists wanted to create conditions in Germany which would make it easier for the individuals to save their souls; Socialists denied the existence of souls and divided people into classes; the German Nationalists were interested in language and culture; while the National Socialists put the main stress on race. Whereas some looked at pocketbooks, others at the pigmentation of the skin or the index of the skull, fruitful discussions became impossible. When the speaker of one party indulged in his oratory, the others walked out. It was not worth while to listen to somebody's opinion when you knew that his premises were all wrong. The grim determination to silence the unconvincible enemy by execution or imprisonment already existed prior to 1933 in many parties.
The parliament passed legislation and the government budget, as well as making declarations of war and ratifying international treaties. The members of the German cabinet, or government, were responsible to the Reichstag, which could force the resignation of ministers or even the whole cabinet by a motion of no confidence. It could also revoke "emergency decrees" by the Reich President according to Article 48 of the constitution -—however, on the other hand the President was able to dissolve the Reichstag. In contrast, the Reichsrat, the house of state representatives, had minor significance. The constitution also provided for the possibility of referenda, but the hurdles to overcome were high. There were only two plebiscites (in 1926 on the Expropriation of the Princes and in 1929 on the "Liberty Law" against the Young Plan), which were both unsuccessful.