Attending a hearing at the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany

Today I attended a hearing at the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany concerning the use of voting machines. It was quite an interesting experience.

First, the whole ceremony had a slightly sacred touch. This is mainly due to the fact that all had to stand up when the judges entered and left the room, and their red robe clothing. On the other hand, the judges turned out to be humorous citicens.

Besides the eight judges, there have been the claimants Ulrich Wiesner, his father Joachim Wiesner plus their assistants. On the opposite side, there have been Carl-Christian Dressel, vice president of the “Wahlprüfungsausschuss” of the german parliament, the “Landeswahlleiter” of Hesse, Dr. Wolfgang Hannappel, Prof. Dieter Richter of the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (which, simplified, assesses the voting machines), and Hans-Heinrich von Knobloch of the Federal Ministry of the Interior. As this was a public hearing of major public interest, there has been quite an audience, consisting of several people. Including young students and some, errr, nerds :) .

The main concern the claimants had about the use of voting machines was that it objects the publicity of the election of the german parliament back in 2005. As the voting machines use closed source software and there was no materialization of each particular vote, the public was not able to verify the results of the election. The opposing party argued that there was no complaint about the use of voting machines during the last 40 years, that there was no manipulation in germany during this time and that the municipalities have spent a lot of money in voting machines and the like. Both parties had, of course, further arguments.

My personal impression was like this:

  • The claimants have been well prepared, and there was a clear thread in their argumentation.
  • The opposing party was prepared, but not well prepared. Sometimes their points have been ridiculed by one single question of a judge.
  • The court itself seemed already to have a point: the point of the claimants. I was a little bit surprised as I thought they should have a rather neutral POV during the hearing.

Some rather interesting things:

  • Returning Officers are not people who assure the correctness of an election. So it’s up to you and me to control it.
  • The PTB checks the voting machines by order of the Federal Ministry of the Interior. While this per se already needs to be controlled (as it means that the Federal Ministry of the Interior can control how the voting machines work?!?) it turned out that the PTB does not check all aspects of the voting machines. Parts of the software (namely the software which is used to apply the actual voting choices to the machine) have never been assessed by the PTB.
  • Delegates do not only bullshit if answering questions of reporters or even citicens, but also if answering questions of members of the prime court of germany. Some answer of Mr. Carl-Christian Dressel had less (read as nothing) to do with the question of the judge. Either he didn’t understand the question or he didn’t want to answer it.

All in all an interesting experience. It’s really good luck that the court is just a 10 minutes walk away from the office.

Links (german language):