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Germany

Doormat vs. democracy in German city of Greifswald

An old rug has kept politicians in the eastern German town of Greifswald on their toes since last summer. But now, a court has rejected a mayoral candidate's complaint that a moved doormat impeded election proceedings.

It all started with the second round of Greifswald's mayoral elections in May 2015. For the last 25 years, conservative CDU candidates held the town's highest office, but this time, there was an upset: Green Party politician Stefan Fassbinder beat CDU candidate Jörg Hochheim - by 15 votes.

Hochheim lodged a complaint about the results because he felt some of his supporters were denied the possibility to cast their vote. The piece-de-resistance: an old doormat. It was supposed to hold the door of a polling station open, but got shuffled around a bit. As a result, the door wouldn't open for a time span somewhere between mere minutes and an hour and a half, depending on whom you ask.

The Administrative Court Greifswald has now decided that this impediment wasn't major enough to warrant a repeat of the elections. Judge Harald Hünecke had said earlier in the day that an "informed, active citizen" would either return or look for another entrance to the polling station.

A voter had complained he wasn't able to enter since he hadn't seen the second available entrance or the doorbell. The man was reportedly so angry about the mishap that he tore up his voter registration. Luckily he tried his luck again two hours later, at which point the doormat had been moved again. He was allowed to vote with his torn-up registration and all was right with the world. One other citizen also complained.

With a difference of just 15 votes, Hochheim felt that the 90 minutes could have been crucial. He took action because "I owe it to my voters," of which there is an over-proportional number in the part of town where the polling station in question was located, Hochheim said.

But it seems that not many of them tried to vote when one of the two entrances was blocked: after the doormat kerfuffle had become public, no one came forward saying they couldn't cast their ballot.

A German reporter cheekily suspects that maybe the complainers couldn't vote because they just weren't strong enough to push open the door, unlike those who went to vote for eventual winner Fassbinder.

Considering all the trouble that Hochheim has gone through over the doormat issue, one could think he's vying for the post of chancellor, not just a mayor of a medium-sized city by the Baltic Sea. The local parliament had deemed the elections valid after a special committee had investigated the case of the moved rug. That's when Hochheim had decided to go to court.

Perhaps it helps to understand that it could really be a question of honor and a man not wanting to let down "Mutti," or "mommy," as Angela Merkel (CDU) is often called in Germany. Greifswald is part of the chancellor's electoral district and in the run-up to the mayoral elections, she even came to town and campaigned with Hochheim. Did that really not help at all? Or would the outcome have been different if the shifty doormat had just stayed where it was supposed to be?

We might never know for sure. At least doormat-gate will never be forgotten. The famed rug has been acquired by the state museum in Greifswald and is displayed as a reminder and warning for future generations.

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