Bundestag election 2021

Identifying and combating disinformation

Disinformation is demonstrably false or misleading information spread to influence or deceive the public. There is no central agency tasked with identifying and correcting disinformation in Germany.

The Federal Returning Officer is responsible for identifying and combating disinformation where such information concerns his area of responsibility or the election procedure. The respective providers are responsible for the content of their social networks. The media authorities of the Länder have a supervisory function.

Disinformation in social media channels

In the context of the Bundestag election, false information (also called fake news) intended to misinform voters is doing the rounds in social media and chat groups. Such information is often passed on as recipients do not realise that it is fake news. Therefore, the following fake news of which the Federal Returning Officer knows are taken up and corrected.

Fake news often shared in social media channels
False information What is correct

It is alleged that the Federal Elections Act has been invalid since 1956 according to a Federal Constitutional Court ruling of 25 July 2012 (2 BvF 3/11, 2 BvR 2670/11, 2 BvE 9/11). The legal basis of past and this year’s Bundestag elections is said to be missing as a consequence. At times, this is accompanied by a news clip from the Tagesschau to proof the claim.

The Federal Constitutional Court ruled by decision of 25 July 2012 (2 BvF 3/11, 2 BvR 2670/11, 2 BvE 9/11) that  the procedure used to distribute the seats as laid down in Section 6 of the Federal Elections Act (former version) was partly unconstitutional. Otherwise the Federal Elections Act remained unaffected, which means valid. The past elections, in particular, were not declared invalid.

The legislators reacted to this ruling by adopting the 22nd Ordinance amending the Federal Elections Act of 3 May 2013 (Federal Law Gazette I 2013, p. 1082). The procedure used to distribute the seats was last modified by the 25th Ordinance amending the Federal Elections Act of 14 November 2020 (Federal Law Gazette I p. 2395).

On account of the pandemic, only people who had been vaccinated against COVID-19, had recovered from the illness or tested negative were given access to the polling stations and the buildings where these had been set up on election day. Eligible voters who were neither of these would be deprived of their right to vote.

There are infection control measures you have to observe when you enter a polling station (such as general social distancing and hygiene standards as well as the obligation to wear a face mask). The relevant rules for staying in indoor public places are laid down in the Coronavirus ordinances of the Länder applying on election day. The respective details will be communicated in due course.

Unvaccinated people can exercise their right to vote either in the polling station while observing the relevant hygiene standards or by post. Please wear a surgical or FFP2 mask in the building where your polling station is located and keep a minimum distance of 1.5 metres from other people.

The voters of one constituency could vote for a party named after a pet listed on a ballot paper for the 2021 Bundestag Election. The name of a pet had been printed on the ballot paper instead of a party name because a mistake was made when the constituency nomination of a candidate without party affiliation was submitted.

Candidates without party affiliation stand for election in a constituency as “other constituency nominations” (not submitted by political parties). For this purpose, they have to choose an identifying name for themselves which appears on the ballot paper in addition to their real name. A candidate is free to use any name. The identifying name must not suggest, however, that the candidate has been nominated by a political party.

The pet’s name does not appear in error on the ballot paper. The candidate in question has chosen the name of his/her pet as identifying name for the constituency nomination and also used that identifying name to order the forms for collecting the necessary supporting signatures from the constituency returning officer.

Only the ballot-box poll in the polling station could be observed. Therefore, without election observers present, the counting of postal votes could be manipulated.

The postal ballot result is determined in public. Everyone has the right to attend the process as an election observer. That right is laid down in law (Section 75 (8) in conjunction with Section 54 of the Federal Electoral Regulations (BWO)). The venues and times of postal ballot board meetings are made public in time by the bodies responsible in the relevant publication media at municipal level (Section 7 no. 5 of the Federal Electoral Regulations (BWO)).

Ballot boxes were not safe. Sealed ballot boxes could be pried open at the back without damaging the seal and without the illegal opening of the box being noticed.

Ballot boxes used for the reception of ballot papers must ensure the preservation of the secrecy of the ballot (Section 33 (1), second sentence, of the Federal Elections Act (BWG)). To this end, ballot boxes must be lockable. There is no additional requirement to affix seals to ballot boxes.

The ballot box is protected at all times from third-party access and unauthorised opening: before the poll begins on election day, the electoral board sees for itself that the ballot box is empty. Then the electoral officer locks the ballot box. It must not be opened again until the poll is closed (Section 53 (3) of the Federal Electoral Regulations (BWO)). This is ensured by poll workers and the public being present in the polling station at any time.

First-time voters could win a prize in the Bundestag elections by writing their name on the ballot paper.

There is no prize to win when voting in the Bundestag elections. If a reference to the voter (such as the name) is taken down on the ballot paper, the latter will become invalid to protect the secrecy of the ballot (Section 39 (1), first sentence, no. 5 of the Federal Elections Act (BWG)).

The postal ballot was not safe, it could be manipulated more easily.

The legislators have taken various precautions against the abuse of postal voting (for instance, affirmation in lieu of an oath, letter to the voter’s residential address, handing out of postal voting documents only upon presentation of a written proxy - see under “Measures against the abuse of postal voting”). Breaking the relevant rules is in part punishable. This means that abuse is possible only in exceptional cases, where there is enough criminal energy.

Ballot papers whose upper right corner is punched or missing were sorted out or invalid.

The upper right corners of all ballot papers to be used in the Bundestag election are punched or cut off (Section 45 (2) of the Federal Electoral Regulations - BWO). This is no flaw. The secrecy of the ballot is maintained. It helps blind and visually impaired people to adjust a specifically produced ballot paper template which enables them to vote on their own and in secret. Ballot paper templates are provided free of charge by the Land associations of the German Association of Blind and Visually Impaired People (DBSV).

Facts on how the election is protected against cyber attacks

The Federal Office for Information Security (BSI), the Land returning officers and the Federal Returning Officer have determined requirements for securing the transmission of provisional results. The requirements are to ensure a permanently high, state-of-the-art security level for the transmission of the provisional results on election night. In keeping with the decision of the Federal Constitutional Court of 2009, voting machines will not be used in Bundestag and European Parliament elections. Votes are only cast on paper. Polling does not depend on IT security and is therefore not susceptible to manipulation.

Illustration: Establishment of Bundestag election results

Facts regarding the security of the postal ballot

Voters may vote in the polling stations or by post in the Bundestag election. The legislators have taken precautions which rule out manipulation of the entire election result through the abuse of postal voting.

The voting behaviour of those voting in person at the polling station often differs from that of postal voters. This carries no implication of any manipulation. There are various reasons why postal voters may vote differently to their counterparts in polling stations (for example because the supporters of a particular political party have a preference for a specific form of voting).

Illustration: Voting by post and secrecy of the ballot