Principles of electoral law

Principles of electoral law lay down fundamental requirements for democratic elections.

Five such principles have been stipulated for Bundestag and European elections. These elections must be general, direct, free, equal and secret. Although it is not expressly regulated, the principle of elections having to be public is another recognised principle of electoral law. These principles are not absolute but their application may be restricted for imperative reasons.

The principle of general elections means that, as a rule, all citizens of Germany may participate in Bundestag elections and all Union citizens in European elections as voters and candidates, irrespective of their sex, race, income and property, status, education or religious affiliation.

Direct means that representatives are elected by the voters themselves. They decide on the nominations without other persons such as electors acting as intermediaries.

The principle of free elections means that voters form their opinion and decide who to vote for in an open and free process without pressure or other undue external influence. Any violation of the decision-making autonomy is prohibited.

The principle of equal elections requires that every voter must be given the same number of votes and every vote must carry the same weight. This is referred to as equality of the counting value of a vote. Additionally, every vote must have the same influence on the composition of the parliament. This is called equality of the chance of a vote to contribute to success.

Secret elections require that everyone is able to exercise his or her right to vote without there being any possibility of discovering how the vote was cast. This must be ensured by the state taking adequate measures such as the use of polling booths, a covert voting procedure and sealed ballot boxes.

The principle of public elections requires that be poll is held under public scrutiny. The public should have the chance to monitor the essential parts of the electoral process (except for the casting of votes) and the way in which the result is ascertained. This is to be ensured, for example, by the right to be present in the polling station during the poll and while the result of the election is determined and established by the electoral board.

Legal bases

Bundestag election:

Article 38 paragraph 1 of the Basic Law (GG)
Section 1 (1) of the Federal Elections Act (BWG)

European election:

Article 14 paragraph 3 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU)
Article 39 paragraph 2 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (CFR)
Section 1 (3) of the Direct Elections Act
Section 1 of the European Elections Act (EuWG)

Last update: 16 May 2017