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Local elections: Most important questions and answers: All you need to know

Local elections: Most important questions and answers : All you need to know

Local elections will be held in North Rhine-Westphalia on 13 September. Who and what party are up for election? Who can vote? And what hygiene rules apply in the polling stations? We answer the most important questions. Also: What does the Integration Council do, and how can I vote for that?

On 13 September, citizens in North Rhine-Westphalia are called to vote in local elections. Depending on their place of residence, mayors, county councils as well as city and municipal councils, and district councils in the independent cities are elected. What special features apply to elections in times of the coronavirus pandemic?

Here’s an overview of the most important questions:

Who can vote in local elections?

Whoever has German citizenship or that of another EU country may vote. British people are not allowed to vote because of the Brexit. The minimum age is 16 years.

What is different due to Covid 19 in these elections?

The minimum distance of 1.5 metres must be observed in the polling stations and they must be regularly ventilated and disinfected. In addition, voters should bring their own pen. On site, tables, polling booths and ballot boxes must be positioned accordingly and, for example, marked walking routes must be provided. In addition, the risk of infection is to be reduced by means of spittle barriers between voters and the electoral board.

Can voters who refuse to wear masks also vote?

Yes, in fact, even mask-objectors are allowed to make their crosses during the elections. In the Corona Protection Ordinance of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, which is valid in mid-August and initially runs until 31 August, the passage was added that in voting rooms "suitable measures must be taken to ensure" that "persons who violate the obligation to wear a mouth-nose cover can also exercise their right to vote. In principle, all polling stations should in any case be designed in such a way that a minimum distance of 1.5 metres can be kept from other people. In addition, a law for the local elections has already stipulated that the election workers at the polling stations may also wear mouth protection if necessary - which actually violates the ban on veils in elections. Otherwise, "equivalent protective measures" such as Plexiglas panes are prescribed.

Is a postal vote also possible?

Yes, this can be applied for by using the back of the election notification form or, in many municipalities, online. The postal voting documents must be returned by 4 p.m. on election day.

How many ballot papers are in the voting booth?

There can be up to six ballot papers. In cities that are not part of a district, for example, there are three (Lord Mayor, council, district representative). In municipalities belonging to a district there are four ballot papers (mayor, council, district administrator, county council). The integration councils are also elected. It is important: Only one cross may be made on the local election ballot papers.

How many mandates are awarded?

The number is only determined afterwards. According to the Ministry of the Interior, around 19,350 mandates were awarded in the 2014 elections for the representations - around 14,300 to men and around 5,000 to women. There is no blocking clause such as the five percent hurdle in state elections.

Will there be run-off elections?

The black-yellow state government wanted to abolish the run-off elections for Lord Mayors, mayors and councillors by law, but the Constitutional Court in Münster overturned the law after an opposition complaint. The run-off elections will now take place on September 27. They will become necessary if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the votes in the first round. Then the decision in the second round will be made between the two first-placed candidates. A simple majority is then sufficient for victory.

What is different about the election campaign this year?

The election campaign is increasingly digital due to the Corona crisis. As a survey by the German Press Agency has shown, the five parties represented in the state parliament are placing particular emphasis on digital offerings this year. The usual closeness to citizens with large election events and handshakes on the streets is unthinkable in the Corona year.

Is a fair election campaign still possible at all?

"The election campaign will be unfair because there will be unequal starting opportunities for the candidates," says Wuppertal University Professor Hans J. Lietzmann. Office-holders and candidates of large parties would have an "oversized starting advantage", while the candidates of small groups would hardly be visible. Lietzmann does not think much of the virtual election campaign: "It is extremely difficult to contact someone via the Internet who does not yet know anything about you.

These characteristics apply to the election in Bonn:

Approximately 249,000 Bonn citizens are called upon to put their cross on September 13, 89,300 more voters are called upon to vote for the Integration Council. Starting Saturday, August 15, the election notices will be sent out, which should reach every eligible voter by August 23.

Because of the Corona crisis, the city area has been divided into 163 constituencies this year, 14 fewer than in the previous election. At that time, some polling stations were located in retirement homes. These cannot be used this year. Three senior citizens' homes in Bonn are an exception, because they have rooms with separate entrances.

The teams in the Bonn polling stations are given a so-called Corona Box, which contains many hygiene products. Mouth and nose protectors, gloves and face visors - the election workers will also wear all these. Also in each box: a grill tongs with which voters who have forgotten their mask can be given a contactless mouth-nose protector. The voting booths will be disinfected regularly, and the insertion of voting documents should be contactless.

And even though voters may not be denied access to the ballot box even without a mask, Bonn's municipal election manager Wolfgang Fuchs appeals to citizens to wear a mask nevertheless.

Original text: Leandra Kubiak - Translation: Mareike Graepel