Berlin’s city-state government has been ordered to rerun elections in the capital, a first in German history, after poor preparation and sloppy organisation caused a cascade of chaos on polling day last year.
In a scathing ruling on Wednesday, Berlin’s highest court declared the September 26th, 2021, state poll invalid because of a series of “errors that were relevant for election mandates”.
A new election is now required within 90 days for Berlin’s 147-seat state parliament, the senate; a similar decision is likely at federal level to rerun the election for some or all of Berlin’s 29 Bundestag seats.
“The preparations for the elections were a mistake in themselves, which caused other errors along the way, violating electoral principles laid down in the Berlin constitution,” ruled Berlin’s constitutional court.
Responding to the ruling, Berlin’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader Franziska Giffey, elected governing mayor after last year’s election, promised better organisation and more funding for the repeat election, likely in February.
Speaking to reporters, the mayor said she was “not in office” when the 2021 election was planned. “Things happened that won’t be allowed happen again and shouldn’t have been allowed to happen,” she said.
Wednesday’s ruling dissected Berlin’s decision to hold four separate polls at once – federal, state and local elections as well as a referendum – on the same day as the marathon closed down much of the inner city.
A shortage of helpers and polling booths ensured long queues formed at voting stations as some polling stations realised they had the wrong ballot papers or too few papers.
When they ran out, some polling stations photocopied ballot papers – dismissed as invalid by the court – while others closed their doors and waited for fresh supplies from election helpers, many of whom were stuck in marathon roadblocks.
No one knows how many Berliners never got to cast their vote. The constitutional court ruled that votes cast after 6pm, when exit polls and result projections were known, “violate the principles of free, public and equal elections”.
Taken together, the court calculated that Berlin polling stations, closed for 83 hours during regular voting hours, remained open for a total of 350 hours after polls officially closed at 6pm.
Summing up, the judges said the scale of the election-day problems and the impossibility of tracking them back fully made it impossible to rerun polls only in the districts with the greatest problems.
The election rerun means an uncertain future for Ms Giffey’s SPD and its three-way coalition with the Greens and the hard-left Linke.
Within minutes of the ruling both junior parties turned on their coalition partner, reminding Ms Giffey that an SPD minister still serving in Berlin’s senate held final responsibility for last year’s election.
Berlin Linke leader Katina Schubert called this “an SPD problem that the SPD has to sort out”.
Meanwhile Berlin’s opposition politicians, hopeful of improving their 2021 results, declared the ruling a “monument to dysfunctionality” in a city that is no stranger to bureaucratic aberrations.