Missing ballots, closed polling stations, not enough poll workers. The 2021 federal election turned out to be a sometimes chaotic event in Berlin, despite warnings. That should have consequences, says the Federal Returning Officer.

In the federal elections in September 2021, glitches and irregularities increased (stern reported). Federal Returning Officer Georg Thiel is now calling for the election to be repeated in parts of the capital.

On election day last September, it wasn’t just individual errors that happened as outliers, Thiel said on Tuesday at a hearing in the Bundestag’s Election Review Committee. Rather, it seems to be a “complete systematic failure of the electoral organization”.

Bundestag must decide on repetition

In November, Thiel had already lodged an objection to the voting in six of Berlin’s twelve federal constituencies. It cannot be ruled out that the events would have an impact on the distribution of seats in the new parliament, he argued back then. In the end, however, the Bundestag decides on a possible re-election. When that will happen is currently unclear.

The elections to the Bundestag and the Berlin House of Representatives on September 26 were marked by numerous mishaps and organizational problems in the capital. These included wrong or missing ballot papers, the temporary closure of polling stations and long queues in front of them. In addition, some polling stations were still open well after 6 p.m.

“We are in a federal capital of a civilized country. Something like this shouldn’t happen there,” emphasized Thiel. “I ask you, what else has to happen that we see elections as less than optimal or illegal or repeatable?” His objection to the election was justified. “We would like to achieve a repeat election in the affected polling districts,” said Thiel. And: “Something like this must not be repeated.”

A prerequisite for at least a partial redial is that errors and glitches are “relevant to the mandate”, i.e. have an effect on the distribution of seats. The Bundestag’s Election Review Committee has been investigating for some time whether this is actually the case and whether a new vote needs to be taken at least in certain constituencies or districts.

The committee intends to make a recommendation on this in the coming weeks or months. The Bundestag then votes on these in a plenary session. In turn, a complaint can be filed against this decision before the Federal Constitutional Court.

More than 2100 objections to the result of the federal election

In order to get a clearer picture, the Committee called for hearings from various stakeholders. According to the committee chairwoman Daniela Ludwig (CSU), this procedure, which is rarely practiced, was also because after examining extensive written documents “large parts of the facts” were still unclear or disputed between those involved. According to Ludwig, the committee received a total of 2,117 objections to the results of the parliamentary elections, including almost 90 percent “exclusively or partially to the Berlin elections”.

With regard to the Berlin House of Representatives, there is also the question of at least a partial re-election. After various objections, the country’s constitutional court must decide on this. The processes there are currently being reviewed and a decision is expected in the coming months.

In his estimation, the problems are not due to the fact that Berlin is a big city, Thiel added. After all, everything worked out in Hamburg, Munich or Cologne. He also believes that this could happen again next time, says Thiel. “So far, in the preparation for Berlin and also in the preparations for further elections, I have not had the impression that things will be different in Berlin in the future.” He demanded: “The entire electoral organization in Berlin urgently needs an overhaul.”