Invalid ballot paper

A ballot paper which does not indicate the voter’s intention with certainty or contains an addendum or reservation by the voter is invalid. The electoral board has to decide in every individual case if the voter's intention is doubtful and whether an addendum or reservation is impermissible. Therefore, the following is merely guidance.

The voter’s intention must be clear beyond any doubt. A cross must be marked on the ballot paper or it must otherwise be made clear for which candidate the vote is cast. It is thus not imperative for the voter to mark a cross in the relevant circle on the ballot paper. Usually other symbols (such as a dot, tick, hash symbol etc.) are also regarded as acceptable. A marking outside the circle does not necessarily render a vote invalid either if the way the ballot paper has been marked clearly shows which candidate was selected by the voter.

Symbols which stand for unconstitutional organisations or a different political world view are not permitted because they are not neutral and thus render the ballot paper invalid.

Markings in the form of smileys or comparable symbols also render the ballot paper void as they are ambiguous and do not indicate the voter’s intention with certainty.

An addendum or reservation by the voter makes the ballot paper invalid, too. In general usage, any vote-related writing on the ballot paper other than the mark next to the chosen candidate is referred to as addendum. It does not have to cause uncertainty about the voter's intention. Even if its meaning is clear, an addendum may under certain circumstances render the vote invalid. After all, voting should be restricted to taking a clear and factual decision without making any personal or political comments.

Addenda which may threaten the secrecy of the ballot or the proper conduct of the election definitely are of legal relevance.

Impermissible addenda or reservations include critical remarks of a general nature next to the marking, reasons for casting the vote, opinions and feelings about the election, and any reference to the voter.

Legal bases

Bundestag election:
Section 39 (1), first sentence, nos. 4 and 5 of the Federal Elections Act (BWG)

European election:
Section 4 of the European Elections Act (EuWG) in conjunction with Section 39 of the Federal Elections Act (BWG)

Last update: 13 February 2023