The coalition and the opposition are arguing about a repeat of the federal elections in the German capital. In the process, election glitches become a political pawn. This is not only inappropriate, but also undemocratic.
You are reading an excerpt from the weekly newsletter «The Other View», today by Fatina Keilani, editor of the «Neue Zürcher Zeitung» in Germany. Subscribe to the newsletter for free. Not resident in Germany? Benefit here.
In Berlin, politicians haggle after serious election mishaps according to the motto: The main thing is that it doesn’t affect your own faction. This is about fundamental rights that are being undermined. This is legally and certainly not democratically justifiable.
Although the Berlin Constitutional Court has been deliberating for almost a year, it came to a far-reaching assessment last week. The judges consider the errors in the Berlin House of Representatives election to be so serious that they are considering a complete new election. That was also an announcement to the traffic light coalition, because on September 26, 2021, the Berliners had also voted on the Bundestag.
After a long back and forth, the coalition partners have now submitted a proposal and only want to have the vote repeated in around 300 of the more than 2,200 Berlin polling stations – only with the second vote, i.e. the vote for the party. How can that be? The vote for the Bundestag and the state parliament took place on the same day in the same polling station under the same chaotic conditions.
The explanation for the different assessments of the validity of the elections is as simple as it is scandalous. It is a political decision based on the interests of the negotiating parties and not on those of the voters. The fact that a fundamental right is being violated seems irrelevant. The only correct decision would be a complete repetition of the elections for the state parliament and the Bundestag. After all, why aren’t the two votes treated equally? And why are there different criteria for first and second votes?
Long list of election glitches
As a reminder, on September 26 last year, Berliners were asked to vote four times. Super Election Day ended in disaster. The Constitutional Court recorded the electoral glitches on around 25,000 pages. In almost half of the polling stations, people were still queuing when Olaf Scholz declared himself Chancellor in the elephant round. Unaffected free voting was therefore no longer possible. Ballot papers were missing in numerous polling stations, in others the voting documents were mixed up. Thousands of people were thus prevented from exercising their right to vote. The state constitutional court found that the “integrity of the election results” had been significantly damaged.
The majority in the Bundestag Election Review Committee apparently saw things differently. Because no independent court, but the members of parliament themselves decide on the legality of the Bundestag elections. The committee makes a recommendation to the Bundestag, which intends to vote in October. This reveals a conflict of interest that is visible to everyone. Because apparently the coalition members were more concerned about their own mandates than the protection of the right to vote.
The legal tug of war dragged on for months. In a letter to the Chair of the Election Review Committee, Daniela Ludwig (CSU), SPD MP Johannes Fechner said that a late closing of the polling stations and an interruption in the voting process can no longer generally be defined as electoral errors. The letter contains the legally incomprehensible formulation: “Voting before 6.45 p.m. should only be defined as a voting error if there are special indications of incidents.”
Such arithmetic exercises also led to the strange fact that in May the coalition assumed there would be a repeat election in around 400 polling stations and now in around a hundred fewer. At the same time, however, more and more glitches became known through hearings of the election workers.
Voting errors are counted as small
The coalition generally refrained from repeating the first vote – i.e. the vote for the direct candidate. She relies on the fact that a re-election must be proportionate and relevant to the mandate. There is another explanation for the opposition Union: its own MPs should be worried about losing their mandate. That’s why obvious electoral errors were scaled down until they were no longer taken into account, she complains. The CDU chairman in the election examination committee, Patrick Schnieder, speaks of a politicization of the procedure, which is completely inappropriate and inappropriate. Legally, that is hardly tenable. “Other motives seem to play a role in the ‘traffic light’,” he says.
The Federal Returning Officer Georg Thiel had already called for new elections in 6 of 12 Berlin constituencies last year. 1.3 million people would be called to vote again. The Union wants to follow this suggestion in the Bundestag and, according to the state constitutional court, is considering expanding the number of repeat elections.
The Berlin election mishaps should stimulate a reform of the election examination as a whole. It is difficult to convey that different instances and not independent courts decide on the validity of elections. Democracy needs trust so that more people do not turn their backs on political opinion-forming. Party-political haggling over the validity of election results does not contribute to this.