On August 15th 2021, the German right-wing populist party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) claimed on Facebook that postal voting in Germany is “not a solution, but a problem” and that every election year has significant cases of electoral fraud. In the German federal election 2021, AfD member Björn Höcke called the people to go to a polling station instead of voting by post. Thereby, the AfD points out that it seems to do much worse among postal voters than among ballot box voters. They further claim that the missing votes benefit the party Die Grünen. Due to security measures taken during the election and the counting process, this claim is rated as mostly false.
According to the AfD, their party achieves a significantly lower share of the vote in absentee ballots than in ballot box elections. In their opinion this already is an indication of election manipulation. The data from the federal election officials confirm the party’s initial assumption. In last year’s federal election, the AfD achieved 13.4 percent of ballot box votes and only 6.5 percent of postal votes. This trend has already been seen in previous federal elections.
However, this is not an indication of manipulation as the AfD is not the only party to perform worse in postal voting. The proportion of postal votes is also lower for the CDU, SPD, FDP and Die Linken. However, the deviations here are minimal, whereas the proportion of ballot box voters for the AfD is more than twice as large as for the absentee voters. It can be assumed that the discrepancy is favored by the party itself. The AfD advises its supporters to cast their votes at the polling station and watch the counting. As a result, according to an INSA survey, 67 percent of AfD supporters expected vote fraud in the federal election.
In terms of postal votes in the federal election 2021, there has been a significant increase of 18.7 percent since 2017. This may also be due to the covid crisis. Many people avoided crowds and possible contagion by voting by mail. AfD voters include many Corona deniers, which may be another reason for voting in the polling station. It is assumed that the number of absentee voters would have increased less without Covid-19.
Furthermore, the AfD claims that their missing votes were attributed to Die Grünen. The party does not provide any evidence for this statement. The reason for this assumption may be due to the high proportion of votes cast by Die Grünen in the absentee ballot. However, this is not an indication of election manipulation.
The AfD also claims on its homepage in the state of Nordrhein-Westfalen, that absentee voting is easy to manipulate. However, due to the relatively secure system, this is unlikely. The electoral roll prevents double voting by letter and ballot box. The two different envelopes ensure the secrecy of the election, and the counts of the ballots are public. In addition, at least five members of the absentee ballot board must be present for inspection. Further security is provided by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The organization is responsible for monitoring the elections of all 57 participating states, including the federal elections in Germany.
There have already been cases of election fraud in Germany, but at the municipal level. Well-known cases include the 2008 local elections in Roding (Bavaria), 2014 in Geiselhöring (Bavaria), and 2014 in Stendal (Saxony-Anhalt).
According to experts, local elections are more susceptible to electoral fraud than federal elections because even a few votes can be decisive for the outcome. In major political elections such as the federal elections, it is much more difficult to manipulate elections. For example, in the federal election 2002 the SPD and CDU/CSU both achieved nearly 42 percent. Nevertheless, there were about 412,300 votes between the parties. Experts rule out manipulation of such magnitude.
Despite the known individual cases, absentee voting does not show any greater susceptibility to electoral fraud than ballot box voting. In addition, Germany is one of the countries with the most secure elections. In a study by the Harvard and Sydney Universities on the quality of elections worldwide, Germany ranks sixth. In comparison the USA only comes on 57th.
In conclusion, postal voting is considered fundamentally secure. Individual cases of manipulation, attempted fraud and errors in absentee voting are unlikely but cannot be ruled out. However, these individual cases hardly have any impact on the results, as the AfD claims. Due to the security measures taken during the election and the counting process, experts rule out any manipulation of the results. For these reasons, the AfD’s claim is mostly false.
RESEARCH | ARTICLE © Anja Kroha & Alisa Rathke, Stuttgart Media University, Germany
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