Abstention from voting

Abstention from voting as an option on the ballot paper is not provided for by law. The ballot paper could be modified only by the legislator, existing provisions would have to be altered.

A ballot paper which provides for the option to abstain from voting does not make sense as it is one of the fundamental and indispensable principles of every liberal democratic state governed by the rule of law that there is a representation of the people and that this representation emerges from elections and is also relieved of its duties through elections. The continuous opinion-shaping and decision-making process on the part of the citizens leads to the act of electing the people’s representation as the most important participatory right of democracy.

The German Basic Law is based on the idea of a representative democracy, which the framers of the constitution recognised in Article 20 Paragraph 2 and Article 38 Paragraph 1 of the Basic Law. It is intrinsic to representative democracy that the state authority is exercised by the people through the election of representatives (deputies).

Neither can a voter’s intention be inferred from his or her abstention from voting nor can a representative be elected to the German Bundestag on that basis. Vacant parliamentary seats according to the percentage share of abstentions would be the consequence. However, that would be contrary to the principle of representative democracy. It cannot be seen how the political intentions of abstaining voters might be realised by vacant seats in parliament, even assuming that they have political goals in common. On top of that, such distribution of seats would seriously endanger every parliament’s ability to act or even render it unable to act.

When the election result is established and the seats in the German Bundestag distributed among the constituency candidates (first votes) and the party candidates (second votes), only valid votes cast are considered as only those votes clearly reflect the voters’ will. Therefore, the valid votes cast represent 100 per cent or the total of the seats in the German Bundestag. Abstentions from voting are not considered when the seats are distributed. They are regarded as invalid votes if the ballot paper was put into the ballot box without marks, if there are no crosses in the space provided or if the ballot paper contains comments, and are accounted for in the election result only as part of the voter turnout.

Legal bases

Bundestag election:

Section 30 of the Federal Elections Act (BWG)

European election:

Section 15 of the European Elections Act (EuWG)

Last update: 1 August 2015