Postal vote

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Postal voting documents for the German Bundestag election 2005
Postal voting documents for the state election (gray), district election (blue) and referendum (yellow) 2013 in Bavaria.

With absentee voting all of the options is called an election by mail rather than at the ballot box in the polling station to perform. In most countries this happens before the actual election day or before the election days. With real absentee ballot , the choice is indicated by voting by mail. A similar procedure is the preselection , in which a vote is made possible in the polling station before the actual election.

Postal voting is intended to enable sick, disabled or otherwise prevented persons to exercise their right to vote on election day. In some countries, anyone is free to vote by letter instead of at the polling station, which is intended to increase voter turnout .

In the US state of Oregon only postal voting has been possible since 2004.

In addition to political elections, postal votes are also used, for example, in corporation , works council and club elections . The case that affects most people in Germany is the social choice with which the members of the social insurance institutions determine the composition of the respective self - governing bodies .


Bundestag election Share of
postal voting users
in the
Bundestag election 1957 4.9%
Bundestag election 1961 5.8%
Bundestag election 1965 7.3%
1969 Bundestag election 7.1%
Federal Parliament election 1972 7.2%
General election 1976 10.7%
Bundestag election 1980 13.0%
Bundestag election 1983 10.5%
Federal Parliament election 1987 11.1%
Bundestag election 1990 9.4%
Bundestag election 1994 13.4%
Bundestag election 1998 16.0%
Federal Parliament election 2002 18.0%
Bundestag election 2005 18.7%
Bundestag election 2009 21.4%
Bundestag election 2013 24.3%
Bundestag election 2017 28.6%

Introduction of postal voting

In Germany, postal voting was introduced for the 1957 Bundestag election in order to ensure the "generality of the election". This is one of the five principles of electoral law in German democracy and means that every person entitled to vote should have the opportunity to vote as easily as possible. The aim was to make it easier for old, sick and disabled people to participate in the election.

Postal voting is constitutional

The Federal Constitutional Court had to deal with the postal vote in 1967 and 1981 through electoral appeals and considered it to be constitutional in its form at the time. Both decisions were justified by the fact that the threat to the secrecy of the elections and the lack of control by the public were outweighed by the greater generality of the election, i.e. the broadest possible voter turnout.

Legal regulation

In Germany , postal voting is regulated by the Federal Election Act and the Federal Electoral Code or the State Election Acts and State Electoral Regulations (for the election of representatives at the state and municipal level). One does not want to make it more difficult for those entitled to vote to exercise their right to vote. When using postal voting, it cannot be guaranteed that the voter can really vote freely and uninfluenced (principle of secret ballot), which is why one had to justify participation in postal voting by 2008 and make the reasons credible. However, since March 21, 2008, this is no longer required in Bundestag and European elections.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe stated in its report of the OSCE / ODIHR election evaluation mission for the 2009 Bundestag election:

“Although the legal and administrative procedures for postal voting appear to have been developed with the aim of giving priority to the freedom and participation of voters, consideration should be given to reviewing the suitability of the existing safeguards against potential abuse of the postal voting system. "


The postal voting documents are requested by filling out and submitting or sending the voting notification card. In many municipalities, it is also possible to apply for ballot papers and postal voting documents via the Internet via the website of the respective municipality or by scanning a QR code on the voting notification with a smartphone . Lists with online links that are updated before elections help you find the right websites. The issuance of postal voting documents is linked to the issuing of a voting slip . The ballot papers issued are noted in the electoral roll. This prevents those entitled to vote from voting both by postal vote and at the polling station , which would contradict the principle of the right to vote for the same vote.

After they have been printed, the voting documents will be sent to the voters entered on the election lists approximately four weeks before the election. They contain:

  • Ballot paper
  • Red envelope with address
  • Envelope without address, color depending on the type of choice
  • Ballot
  • manual

For the postal vote, the voting slip is filled out, put in the non-red envelope and sealed. Then fill in the ballot paper, put it with the aforementioned envelope in the red envelope and seal it too. The instructions will not be sent.

For the state elections in Rhineland-Palatinate in 2016, the envelope with the voting slip should not be sealed and should be put in the voting envelope together with the voting slip containing the name and address of the person entitled to vote. The envelopes with the voting slip were thrown unopened into the ballot boxes of the polling stations after checking the eligibility to vote. As a result, the postal votes could not be distinguished from the votes cast at the polling station, which were also cast in unsealed envelopes. According to the Regional Returning Officer, this procedure ensured voting secrecy for postal votes.

If the voter appears in person at the postal voting point, the voting slip can usually be filled out on site in an available voting booth. The red postal voting envelope is then thrown into a sealed ballot box, which is evaluated on election day together with the votes received by post.

The German postal transported ballot letters free of charge within the Federal Republic of Germany, only for additional services such as registered mail is a fee to be paid. The postal voting documents must be received by the municipality by the time the polling stations close.

Furthermore, Germans living abroad who live in countries with an unreliable postal system can hand in their completed election documents at the nearest diplomatic mission abroad . This sends the envelopes with diplomatic mail to Germany free of charge for the voter , where they are also forwarded to the electoral offices by official exchange of documents . The red envelope can also be sent in a neutral envelope. The postage is to be paid by the voter abroad anyway.

Even after applying for and receiving postal voting documents, voting can be done directly at the polling station on election day. The voting slip is required for this.

If a voter dies before the actual election day, but after he has cast his vote by postal vote, the vote will still be valid.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic in Germany , the runoff elections for the municipal elections in Bavaria 2020 were only held by postal vote.

Mention of reasons abolished (2008)

Between 2004 and 2007, the federal legislature examined both a tightening and a relaxation of postal voting rights. He wanted to implement changes based on these exams by the election to the 17th German Bundestag in 2009 at the latest . On December 11, 2007, the grand coalition introduced a draft law that provided for the “abolition of the reasons for applying for postal voting” (p. 1 of the draft). The law was passed on March 17, 2008 ( Federal Law Gazette I p. 394 ). However, the law only removed the condition (in Article 1, No. 6) of being prevented from voting in his constituency. Together with the above The wording from the draft law seems clear that no more obstacles to the ballot box need to be given when applying for postal voting. This was then also taken into account by the amendment to Section 27 (2) of the federal election regulations on December 11, 2008 by means of the second regulation amending the federal election regulations and the European election regulations of December 3, 2008 ( Federal Law Gazette I p. 2378 ), so that these The change in the law has now also been implemented at the ordinance level that is relevant for administration. The wording of the obligation to state reasons, which was stipulated in paragraph 2, has been completely deleted and replaced by a different procedural aspect. The approval of postal voting was judged to be constitutional in a decision of the Federal Constitutional Court (2 BvC 7/10) in July 2013. However, this is not undisputed among constitutional lawyers.


When postal voting was first possible in the 1957 Bundestag election , 4.9% of voters made use of it. Up until 1990 the proportion was mostly below 11%, but then rose rapidly and reached 21.4% in the 2009 Bundestag election (see also the table above).

Postal voting is particularly popular in large cities. In 2002, 25% of voters in the ten largest cities in Germany cast their votes by postal vote. Postal voting is much more common in the western federal states than in the eastern states.

42% of postal votes are held as early polls, i. In other words, the voter appears at the commune himself, picks up his ballot paper and throws it into the ballot box himself. Only 52% of postal voting documents were sent by post.


In France there was also a postal vote, but it was abolished in the 1970s, as the postal workers were partly organized in a communist way and this was classified as a security risk with regard to election manipulation.


There was no postal vote in the GDR . If necessary, so-called flying ballot boxes were used, that is, the election workers went to the voters in the hospital, old people's home or even home when the voters were no longer able to leave their house or sick bed. If only one person was visited with this procedure, the election was no longer secret, as one then knew whose (only) ballot paper was in the urn and could therefore assign the ballot paper to a specific person. On the other hand, it was desirable in the GDR to throw the ballot paper in the polling station without using the booth and without deleting it in the ballot box, so that no value was placed on the electoral process being kept secret. The flying urns were also used to put pressure on possible non-voters . Anyone who had not cast their vote by lunchtime was visited and urged to take part in the election.


As of the reform of the electoral law that came into effect on July 1, 2007, there is a general possibility of postal voting in Austria , after Article 26 of the Austrian Federal Constitution was amended.

From 1990 to 2007, according to Art. 26 (6) B-VG, votes could be cast abroad in elections to the National Council, the election of the Federal President and in referendums by postal vote. However, it was necessary to have the correct casting of the vote confirmed by a second Austrian citizen.

From 2007, postal votes at home and abroad will be made by requesting a voting card , which can be used to vote personally, unobserved and uninfluenced at any chosen location and to send it to the responsible electoral authority by post. Confirmation of the correct submission is now made by your own signature on the voting card.

Since the 2011 Electoral Law Amendment came into force on October 1, 2011, for every nationwide election event, the voting card must be received by the responsible district electoral authority at the latest when the last polling station closes or it has to be handed in on election day at an open polling station in the electoral district. “Tactical voting” after the polling stations have closed (as was possible from 2007 to 2011) is thus prevented.

In the case of nationwide elections, the postal votes are not counted until the day after the election. In the (first, repealed) runoff election of the 2016 federal presidential election , this meant that the winner was not yet known on the evening of election day, since after counting the votes cast directly on election day (Sunday), the candidates were 143,672 votes apart for participation in the Federal President runoff election but 885,437 voting cards were requested and issued. The result of the 766,076 votes cast with a voting card was announced on the day after the election (on Monday afternoon). As a result of the voting card votes, the total share of the votes of the applicant who had passed on the evening of the election day changed to a vote lead of around 31,000 votes.

Postal voting is also possible for referendums and referendums.


In Switzerland , postal voting and voting - the “ ballot box ” - was introduced in all cantons between 1978 and 2005 and is now the norm in practically all federal , cantonal and communal votes and elections, more than 80% of voters use this option. All voting (voting) and election documents are sent to the voters in advance by post. The number of open voting and polling stations, in which the vote can still be cast at the ballot box, has been significantly reduced in recent years, but they are still plentiful. In Switzerland, voting and polling stations close on voting Sunday lunch at twelve. Attempts at electoral fraud are rare, but do happen.

Cantonal matters are not voted (elected) by post in those (small) cantons that still have a rural municipality . An open election is inherent in the system, so it is in principle possible to influence the election by monitoring other voters.

Vulnerability to election fraud

Seal stamp from the Kingdom of Prussia to seal the election envelope

Postal voting, and especially postal voting, are generally more prone to voting fraud than voting at a polling station. Reasons for this are:

  • The option of the voter to sell the documents for the postal vote blank or to fill them out in the presence of a vote buyer.
  • In contrast to the polling station, nobody watches over the observance of voting secrecy when voting in their own home ; influence by others is therefore not excluded.
  • Theft of postal voting documents in the mail (both blank on the way to the voter and filled in when returning to the electoral authority).
  • The risk that filled-in postal voting envelopes will be changed or destroyed in the mail or when they are kept in the municipality, or that they will not arrive there on time.
  • With forged signatures it is possible to apply for postal voting documents to other addresses.

There were cases of postal voting fraud in 1996 and 2002 in Dachau , in 2005 in Birmingham and in 2008 in Roding in Bavaria.

Alternatives to postal voting

Various alternatives are conceivable to avoid the unsafe postal route, but some of them have other security problems:

  • early voting (in Germany the so-called "absentee voting" in an "early vote center" in the US)
  • voting in another polling station
  • voting by another person ( deputy suffrage )
  • "Mobile urn" (the electoral board comes to the voter, for example in a hospital or old people's home)
  • Internet choice


Web links

Commons : Postal Vote  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Postal voting  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Instructions on how to vote by mail: Oregon Official Site , accessed May 30, 2017.
  2. ^ Federal Returning Officer: Postal Vote
  3. BVerfGE 21, 200
  4. BVerfGE 59, 119
  5. ^ Message , of August 31, 2008
  6. ^ Federal Republic of Germany: Election to the German Bundestag, September 27, 2009: Report of the OSCE / ODIHR Election Assessment Mission . OSCE, December 14, 2009. page 28.
  7. Article city editors , postal voting documents via QR code
  8. Search engine for links to apply for postal voting documents for current elections (OV Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen, Washington, DC)
  9. Press release of February 16, 2016 ( Memento of February 21, 2016 in the Internet Archive ),
  10. ^ Foreign Germans ( memento of October 11, 2009 in the Internet Archive ),
  11. Federal election regulations ( Memento of October 3, 2013 in the Internet Archive ), §59, accessed on September 18, 2013 (PDF; 392 kB)
  12. ^ Municipal runoff elections in Bavaria only by letter. Süddeutsche Zeitung, March 16, 2020, accessed on March 16, 2020 .
  13. BT-Drs. 15/3872 of September 29, 2004, para. 33, on
  14. BT-Drs. 16/7461 [ PDF 535  KiB ] of December 11, 2007
  15. General information from the Groß-Gerau district administration on the federal election ( Memento from September 10, 2009 in the Internet Archive ), to be found in the archive ( Memento from September 10, 2009 in the Internet Archive ) (August 9, 2011)
  16. ^ Synopsis of the regulations on postal voting in the federal election regulations on
  17. Federal Constitutional Court: Postal voting is constitutional, July 26, 2013
  18. 2 BvC 7/10 of July 9, 2013, paragraph no. (1 - 17) , BVerfG
  19. Rolf Göschner: Choose go - public issue of the whole people. In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung , April 25, 2013.
  20. Jan Thomsen: Constitutional lawyers criticize postal voting. In: Berliner Zeitung , April 18, 2013.
  21. Susann Kreutzmann: Postal Vote: An exception on the way to the rule. In: Wall Street Journal , August 27, 2013.
  22. The Federal Returning Officer : Special Issue First Results from the Representative Election Statistics for the Federal Republic of Germany, 2005 ( Memento from June 17, 2011 in the Internet Archive ), available in the archive ( Memento from June 17, 2011 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF; 761 kB)
  23. The Federal Parliament election 2002: Analysis of the election results and the election campaign, Volume 10 of the series of publications of the working group “Elections and Political Attitudes” of the German Association for Political Science, Frank Brettschneider, Jan W. van Deth, Edeltraud Roller, VS Verlag, 2004, ISBN 3810041238 , ISBN 9783810041234
  24. ^ Elections in the GDR
  25. "Flying urns" against objectors
  26. Simon Hehli: E-voting beats postal voting - voting and voting by mouse click has advantages over postal voting - despite risks such as hacker attacks. In the future, the electronic channel should also become more secure , NZZ February 6, 2017
  27. Lumengo is not the first case of election fraud , NZZ , November 12, 2010
  28. Ricardo Lumengo: The political whiz kid is about to end , BaZ , November 12, 2010
  29. Robert Devenoges denies vote-catching allegations . St. Galler Tagblatt . May 5, 2009. Retrieved May 13, 2009.
  30. Eric Weber on December 1st in court. In: (amu / sda). Retrieved May 23, 2016 .
  31. ^ Faked ballot papers , Stuttgarter Zeitung, February 26, 2010
  32. 10 indicted in vote-buying scheme ( memento of July 23, 2012 in the web archive ), Courier Journal, June 10, 2010
  33. Cross for Grandma . In: Der Spiegel 51/1980 of December 15, 1980. Online at
  34. Berliner Morgenpost: Post forgets 800 votes in the European elections, June 20, 2009
  35. Unfortunately God's chased through the shredder , Süddeutsche Zeitung, September 2, 2009
  36. ^ Polling letters were forgotten , Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, September 21, 2009
  37. ^ On the trail of electoral fraudsters , Der Westen, June 18, 2010
  38. Election review committee confirms election result , City of Cologne, January 10, 2005
  39. Judge upholds vote-rigging claims , BBC, April 4, 2005
  40. ^ New fears over postal vote fraud , Guardian, April 13, 2005
  41. ^ Labor to halt postal vote fraud but only after election , Times, April 11, 2005
  43. in the US there were 16 percent early voters in the presidential election in November 2000 , in 2012 it was 35 percent ( )