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German election: Berlin voters face polling station chaos

September 26, 2021

Some voters in Germany's capital faced waits of over an hour before being able to cast their ballots. Several polling stations reported ballot paper shortages and mix-ups.

A line of people stand waiting to vote in Berlin
Long lines were reported at polling stations in BerlinImage: Monika Skolimowska/dpa/picture alliance

Voters hoping to cast their ballot in Germany's capital, Berlin, on Sunday encountered widespread queues and chaos at polling stations.

The disruption came as Germany held its nationwide parliamentary election that will see Chancellor Angela Merkel step down after almost 16 years in the top post.

A number of factors have been blamed for the disruption, including the number of polls — three are taking place simultaneously — as well as coronavirus hygiene measures and ballot paper shortages.

Local media reported people casting ballots at polling stations past 8 p.m, two hours after polls officially closed.

a line of people stand in the street waiting to vote
All eligible voters in line as of 6 p.m. were still able to cast their ballotImage: Monika Skolimowska/dpa/picture alliance

What was the situation like for voters in Berlin?

Berliners heading to polling stations were facing waits of up to 90 minutes before casting their ballots, local media reported.

Voters in the Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf and Friedrichshain districts of the city have experienced the most disruption, according to Germany's Bild tabloid newspaper.

Some stations in Friedrichshain received ballot papers marked Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf and had to shut while the correct papers were delivered. Votes cast on the incorrect ballots were declared invalid.

By early afternoon, a number of polling stations announced they had run out of ballot papers, the Tagesspiegel newspaper reported.

A queue of people line up outside a polling booth
In some places, would-be-voters were having to wait for up to 90 minutes before reaching the polling boothImage: Monika Skolimowska/dpa/picture alliance

Additional ballot papers were initially unable to be sent to stations due to a marathon taking place in the city, Tagesspiegel added.

"We had to close for an hour because we ran out of ballot papers and no one was able to vote," one election official at a station in Wilmersdorf told the newspaper.

The Federal Election Commission tweeted that there was no evidence of missing ballot papers for the federal elections.

What's behind the confusion?

DW correspondent Sabine Kinkartz explained: "One reason is the coronavirus hygiene requirements, but also that a total of six ballots have to be filled out."

In addition to the Bundestag elections, Berliners are voting for the Berlin's state parliament and the district assemblies. There is also a referendum on housing developers taking place.

In Berlin, authorities reported 27.4% turnout by midday, compared to 27.2% in 2017.

While polling officially ended at 6 p.m. local time, anyone standing in line outside their polling station was still be allowed to vote, said Geert Baasen, the spokesman for the state election administration.

He explained that at 6 p.m., a check was made in front of the polling stations to see who was the last person in line. All those people were still permitted to cast their vote.

Kate Martyr Editor and video producer at DW's Asia Desk and News Digital