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After embarrassing mishaps: constitutional judges negotiate Berlin election chaos

After embarrassing mishaps
Constitutional judges negotiate Berlin election chaos

As part of the federal elections in September 2021, there were embarrassing mishaps in Berlin: missing and incorrect ballot papers, chaos when voting, trouble at the polling stations. The legal work-up is now beginning in court, the procedure can also have an impact on the federal elections.

A good year after the elections to the Berlin House of Representatives, which were overshadowed by breakdowns, the Constitutional Court (VerfGH) is reviewing their validity. The oral hearing this Wednesday is an important step in the political and legal processing of the omissions on September 26, 2021, which made headlines nationwide. Berlin’s top court is expected to make a preliminary assessment of whether the election needs to be repeated. It is possible that this will be necessary in at least some of the 78 constituencies. Opinions on this differ widely.

A decision from the court is not expected on the same day, but is theoretically possible. On September 26, 2021, the Bundestag, the Berlin House of Representatives and the twelve district councils were elected in Berlin. There was also a referendum on the expropriation of large housing groups. Massive problems had arisen: These included incorrect or missing ballots, the temporary closure of polling stations and long queues in front of them, sometimes with waiting times of hours. In addition, some of the 2,257 polling stations were open well after 6 p.m.

Largest trial of its kind

The court has received a total of 35 objections to the assessment of the elections to the Berlin House of Representatives and the twelve district parliaments, four of which are to be negotiated first. It is about the complaints of the state returning authority, the internal administration and the parties AfD and the party. All parties involved in the proceedings can comment on this. The decisive question in the election verification process is whether mistakes made on election day were relevant to the mandate – i.e. whether they had an impact on the distribution of mandates and the composition of Parliament.

The case is considered one of the most important in the history of Berlin’s highest court and goes beyond anything that has gone before. For the first time, the judges met outside their domicile in the Superior Court building. Due to the unusually large number of people involved in the proceedings and the immense public interest, they come together in a large lecture hall at Freie Universität, which can accommodate up to 570 participants. According to spokeswoman Lisa Jani, this is the largest court hearing of its kind in Berlin to date.

According to the law, the judges have three months after the hearing to reach a verdict, i.e. until the end of the year. In the political arena, their decision is expected in November or December.

Parallel to the Berlin procedure, there is also the possibility of a repeat election with regard to the Bundestag. The Bundestag itself will decide on this – possibly in October – on the basis of a recommendation from its election examination committee. It is expected that complaints will then be lodged with the Federal Constitutional Court, which will have the last word.

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