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German election: Can anyone contest the results?

  • September 25, 2017

Post-election controversies concerning results, possible recounts and election procedure are by no means unheard of. In the United States, by way of example, 43 states allow a losing candidate, a voter, a group of voters or other concerned parties to petition for a recount in some fashion, according to the US National Conference of State Legislatures. In many African countries, the opposition contests the outcome of a vote.

In Germany, any eligible voter can contest local and state elections.

In the case of the parliamentary election, “election inspection is the duty of the German Bundestag.” Accordingly, the country’s lower house of parliament on its website offers information on how to contest an election.

Read more: How does the German general election work?

Who can contest a national poll?

According to Germany’s election review law, every individual eligible to vote in Germany can contest the validity of the election, as can groups of people eligible to vote.

In their official capacity, state election supervisors, the federal election supervisor and the president of the Bundestag can also contest the results.

Germany's Reichstag on a sunny day, flags flying out front (picture-alliance/R. Goldmann)

Objections must be sent to the Bundestag in Berlin

The objections most often relate to complaints about the voting stations, the ballots or even the accuracy of a political party’s campaign promises, the Bundestag’s press office told DW in an email.

How does the procedure work?

Citizens must send a formal objection to the election review commission with the Bundestag in Berlin within two months of the election day, either in the form of a letter or a hand-signed fax. E-mails are not accepted.

The Bundestag points out that it will only review the election if it is contested and will not act on its own accord.

The process is free of charge. Any objections must be stated and explained in as much detail as possible — though not before the election has taken place or after the deadline has passed.

Read more: German election volunteers organize the voting and count the ballots

What happens next?

The Bundestag’s election review commission then investigates the objections and hands the results, including its own recommendations, to parliament for a final decision. It would be up to a plenary session to decide whether a national election needs to be repeated.

Voters can also contest the recommendations prepared by the election review commission and go all the way to the Federal Constitutional Court.

According to the Federal Returning Officer’s website, the number of objections tends to be around 200 or less after each federal election. Past exceptions to this took place in 1994 when the review commission received 1,453 objections, and in 2002 when it received 520. Less than four percent of those cases reached the Constitutional Court.

Even unsuccessful objections can be effective and prompt a closer look at possible mistakes that might help improve the election process. Complaints in 2012, for example, resulted in reforms of election legislation.

A German national vote has never been declared invalid.

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