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Secrecy of the ballot

The principle of ballot secrecy is to ensure that no one gets to know which candidate or list a voter has voted for. The secrecy of the ballot also serves the principle of free elections. Other voters are to be protected from any influence when they cast their vote.

The principle of ballot secrecy obliges general government to establish safeguards ensuring that the vote remains secret. Precautions have to be taken to guarantee the secrecy of the ballot also when representative electoral statistics are compiled. Any violation of ballot secrecy is punishable. 

As the principle of ballot secrecy is to guarantee voters a free choice in who they decide to vote for, voters themselves are generally not obliged to preserve the secrecy of the ballot. They may disclose their voting behaviour before and after voting. The rules are different during the act of voting: persons entitled to vote may not only cast their votes in secret but are obliged to do so. Therefore, they have to adhere to the rules laid down to safeguard the secrecy of the ballot and follow the orders of the electoral board in the polling station. 

These are some of the measures designed to safeguard the secrecy of the ballot:

  • booths or other facilities are set up at the polling stations which allow voters to mark their ballot papers without being observed by others,
  • photographing and filming in the polling booth is prohibited,
  • the ballot paper is folded in such a way that the markings cannot be seen,
  • a ballot paper envelope is used for postal voting.
Legal bases

Bundestag Election:

Article 38 paragraph 1 of the Basic Law (GG)
Sections 33, 34, 36, 56 (2), (6) no. 5a of the Federal Elections Act (BWG)
Sections 50, 51, 55 to 57, 66 of the Federal Electoral Regulations (BWO)
Sections 1 to 5, 8 of the Act on Electoral Statistics (WStatG)
Section 107c of the Criminal Code (StGB)

European election:

Sections 1, 16 of the European Elections Act (EuWG)
Section 4 of the European Elections Act (EuWG) in conjunction with Sections 33, 36 of the Federal Elections Act (BWG)
Sections 43, 44, 48 to 50, 59 of the European Electoral Regulations (EuWO)
Sections 1 to 5, 8 of the Act on Electoral Statistics (WStatG)
Section 107c of the Criminal Code (StGB)

Last update: 31 March 2017