Hundreds of thousands of people in need of full-time care in 16 member states will be excluded from voting in the European elections in May. In Germany, a dispute on this matter arose some time ago, but it remains unlikely that the electoral laws will change before the elections. EURACTIV Germany reports.
No one should be at a disadvantage due to his or her disability – these are the words of the third article of the German Grundgesetz (Basic Law). Yet, close to 85,000 people in Germany are being excluded from the parliamentary and European elections.
They have been legally denied the right to vote, either because they serve a prison sentence and are considered mentally incompetent, or because they are under full supervision due to a mental disability.
“This automatism, in which people are simply denied their right to vote without being able to appeal against it, is scandalous,” Matthias Bartke (SPD), chairman of the Bundestag committee responsible for the Committee on Labour and Social Affairs, told EURACTIV.de in an interview.
The conservative CDU/CSU and the SPD (Social Democrats) have stated in the coalition agreement that German electoral law should be reformed. In the future, people who are undergoing full-time care should be allowed to vote, but little has happened so far and negotiations have stalled.
The reform should be ready by July, according to Bartke. But that is too late for the EU election in May, a point criticised by the opposition. Once again, tens of thousands of people will not be allowed to vote in the European Parliament elections.
Already last summer, politicians of the FDP, Left and Greens filed two draft laws to obtain a revision of the electoral law. However, both drafts had been postponed repeatedly in the committee meetings, said Jens Beeck, a spokesman for the FDP parliamentary group and initiator of one of the two drafts.
After months of delays, the bills were rejected in February this year. Headwinds came mainly from the ranks of the CDU/CSU, said Beeck. “The reasons provided were relatively creative. Ultimately, it was said that the Grand Coalition would submit its own draft the following week. I have not seen such a draft to this day. ”
One reason for the dragging negotiations is the upcoming EU election. It is unpopular to change the electoral law a few weeks before an election, according to Bartke.
Theoretically, one could adapt the laws so that the persons concerned are given an active right, enabling them to cast a ballot. But this is accompanied by one’s right to run for election, for which it is too late as candidate lists for the EU election are already in place.
“Frankly speaking, I would have been in favour of granting people having full-time care the right to vote, even before the EU elections,” said Bartke.
800,000 EU citizens without the right to vote
Legally, people with disabilities have an unrestricted right to vote. This is not only stipulated by the German Basic Law but also laid down in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Nevertheless, around 800,000 people in 16 European member states cannot benefit from voting rights under certain national laws, the European Economic and Social Committee said.
In February, even the Federal Constitutional Court rejected a categorical exclusion from the right to vote.
The fact that a person could potentially make a rationally unreasonable choice or be unable to take part in a vote is not considered a reason to deprive that person of the right to vote, the Court said. Thus, even a coma patient, who is unable to go to the ballot box, may not be denied the right to vote. In theory, he still has a right to political participation.
However, there is another concern, especially with regards to the CDU/CSU Union: it has been argued that people in need of care can be more easily influenced in shaping their political opinions.
“What is the meaning of being influenced? Who is not influenced? In any case, influence cannot be measured” said Beeck. This argument is being made in the CDU/CSU as a reason for not implementing this part of the coalition agreement.
Beeck’s impression is shared by others: Jürgen Dusel, Federal Government Commissioner for Disability, recently told the ARD that in the debate on the right of people with disabilities, there were still some “anachronistic images of people” that led to electoral laws not being reformed.
“In the end, it’s about the people choosing their politicians,” said Beeck. “Politicians cannot pick their voters.”
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]