After the mishaps in the election last September in Berlin, the Federal Returning Officer Georg Thiel, in the hearing of the Bundestag Election Review Committee, requested that the Bundestag elections be repeated in six of Berlin’s 12 Bundestag constituencies – not just in the Reinickendorf constituency, in which a mandate relevance was determined. This means that half of all constituencies would have to be re-elected.

At the hearing on Tuesday, Thiel found clear words for the organization of the Bundestag elections, which took place together with the House of Representatives and district elections: “Here you can see a complete systemic failure,” said Thiel. “What else has to happen for us to see elections as repeatable or illegal?”

The six constituencies he complained about are constituencies 75 (Berlin-Mitte), 76 (Berlin-Pankow), 77 (Berlin-Reinickendorf), 79 (Berlin-Steglitz-Zehlendorf), 80 (Berlin-Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf ) and 83 (Berlin-Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg – Prenzlauer Berg Ost).

The Federal Returning Officer found significant deficiencies in six Bundestag constituencies. In Reinickendorf in particular, errors could have distorted the results. There Monika Grütters (CDU) had just won the direct mandate against Torsten Einstmann (SPD).

In addition, if the SPD had received only 800 more votes nationwide, it would have received one more seat in parliament. The deputies in the Bundestag must take Thiel’s objection seriously, he will be heard on Tuesday, just like the Berlin state election authority itself.

The Bundestag Election Review Committee held the first public hearing in its history on Tuesday (stream). Thiel emphasized that the federal returning officer had repeatedly pointed out to the former state returning officer in advance of the election the special problems with elections under corona conditions, with a marathon and several votes at the same time. “The election committee always said: Everything is fine,” said Thiel.

The Federal Returning Officer was obviously annoyed above all by the fact that most of the mistakes could have been avoided. The list of errors that he presented in his statement to the MPs is long: polling stations were closed for up to two hours because of missing ballot papers, and more than 250 polling stations voted until after 6:30 p.m. The last polling station closed at 9:31 p.m. A minor voted illegally. Voters were turned away.

The state election authority contradicted the impression of systemic deficiencies on Tuesday, but revealed many errors themselves. Significant deficiencies and violations were found in 311 of 2,257 polling stations. 362 first votes were invalid because wrong ballot papers were issued, and the election was interrupted in 102 polling stations. In addition, 170 eligible voters were turned away directly. Add to that the 255 polling stations that were open too long, and one that was a minor.

In contrast to Thiel, the state election authority tried to explain that they had prepared very well for the special election. There were 457 more polling stations to downsize particularly large polling stations. There was a special online training course for this. There were also enough election workers, and additional election boards were set up to count the votes. “Then why were these problems only in Berlin?” a parliamentarian wants to know.

In its defense, the state election commissioner states that many small things – from the marathon, traffic jams, inexperienced helpers, wrong ballot papers and the pandemic – led to the chaotic election. The deputies acknowledge the sometimes confused explanations of the Berlin state level, which seemed unprepared, with sharp questions and a shake of the head.

Individual details, such as the organization of ballot paper collection, seem like a platitude story: In Berlin, the electoral boards collect the ballot papers themselves from the district returning officers on the day before the election. Because there were so many ballot papers at once this time – 32 grams per packet – they weighed up to 24 kilograms and could not be transported. The electoral boards therefore only brought a part to the polling station.

On election day, this caused considerable delays and the closure of polling stations because the ballots could not be delivered later. A truck with ballots is said to have been stuck in a traffic jam for almost an hour, explains Ulrike Rockmann, Deputy Berlin State Returning Officer. Committee chairwoman Daniela Ludwig (CSU) asks in disbelief: “Wasn’t that clear for a long time? At least the day before? How can it even be that the electoral boards pick it up?”

The hearing was scheduled to continue into the evening on Tuesday. The question of the proportionality of a repeat election should also be discussed. The Election Review Committee will then make a recommendation, but only after further deliberations, and the Bundestag will finally make a decision. The more than 2,000 people who have lodged an objection to the election can object to the decision at the Federal Constitutional Court.

Almost all those involved in the proceedings are therefore assuming that the Berlin Bundestag elections will also be a case for the Federal Constitutional Court after the decision in Parliament. A political decision is no longer expected before the summer break due to the abundance of allegations and the complexity of the issue. When the Federal Constitutional Court would decide on any objections is completely open.

The decision on the possible repetition of the Bundestag elections has no direct impact on the possible repetition of the House of Representatives and district elections. However, since the elections took place in parallel, observers assume that conclusions can be drawn from the public procedure for the Bundestag elections. Most recently, concerns about complete new elections had increased in Berlin because the Berlin Constitutional Court was reviewing all constituencies again.

The chairman of the Berlin regional group of the CDU, Thomas Heilmann, attended the meeting. He told the Tagesspiegel: “The electoral errors in Berlin are extremely embarrassing for the Senate and are of dramatic proportions.” “There must be not only a new election here, but also political consequences.”

The Berlin CDU General Secretary Stefan Evers also sharply criticized the Berlin Senate. The statements of the Federal Returning Officer are dramatic: “Red-Red-Green was attested before the eyes of the Republic of a complete systematic failure in the election organization.” Conditions “like in a banana republic” could be observed, comments Evers.

“While in other parts of the country the Bundestag elections were organized without errors despite the flood disaster, in Berlin the election itself became a disaster. It is obvious that the Senate’s mistakes are so serious that at least large parts of the Bundestag and House of Representatives elections will have to be repeated. It is likely the election to the state parliament was even wrong overall,” said the CDU politician.

“No serious political consequences” have been drawn from the election to date, Evers explained, referring to Andreas Geisel, then Senator for the Interior and now Senator for Building. “On the contrary: the responsible SPD senator is still in the Senate. Ms. Giffey continued with the same coalition as before. And to this day there are no statements on how to do better in the next election. Let alone how to preparing for a possible repeat of the elections.”

The SPD regional group leader in the Bundestag, Cansel Kiziltepe, clearly rejected the CDU’s criticism. She told the Tagesspiegel: “The elections are carried out by the citizens in self-organization. The election workers thus form the foundation of the organization of political participation. It is a tragedy that the CDU is trying to exploit these difficulties for party politics.”

Kiziltepe also took part in Tuesday’s eight-hour committee. She said afterwards: “A federal election is a particular challenge in a city of over a million people and in times of a pandemic. Nevertheless, today’s oral hearing showed that there were breakdowns in individual voting districts of different constituencies.” One must learn from this for the coming elections. The Berlin Senate has therefore set up its own commission.

The Berlin CDU had previously submitted a 16-point paper with proposals for future elections. Among other things, the Christian Democrats are calling for additional pop-up polling stations for postal votes in shopping centers, for example, and for functioning controls when the voting documents are handed over. The CDU is convinced that major events such as the Berlin Marathon should no longer be held parallel to elections in Berlin.

The Berlin state returning officer Petra Michaelis took the consequences shortly after the election debacle and resigned from her post. If the deputies see Thiel’s objection as justified, the elections in the six Berlin electoral districts could be declared invalid and would have to be rescheduled. However, it is also possible that only an infringement of the law is established.