Germany’s Constitutional Court accelerates the enfranchisement of mentally impaired citizens

On Monday, the German Constitutional Court has decided that mentally or psychologically impaired citizens who have a legal custodian will have the right to vote in the next elections for the European Parliament in May.

The Court had ruled as unconstitutional the exclusion of mentally or psychologically impaired people from the ballot already in January. Following that decision, the Bundestag introduced a more inclusive electoral law. The legislation caused a split in Parliament: at issue was a disagreement on whether or not the enfranchisement should go into effect in time for the European elections on May 26. The ruling coalition parties (the conservative CDU/CSU and the center-left SPD) argued that making last minute changes before the election could have been disruptive. By contrast, members of the Greens, Die Linke and FDP insisted on having the new legislation in effect prior to the elections in May. They presented an urgent motion before the Federal Constitutional Court and they won the case.

This ruling accelerates the enfranchisement of mentally impaired citizens in Germany, one of the European countries that used to have a restrictive legislation in this field alongside Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Denmark, Hungary, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, and the United Kingdom.

It is estimated that more than 80,000 citizens are affected by this ruling: mentally or psychologically impaired people with a court-ordered guardian and people convicted of offences that were found incapable of criminal responsibility and have thus been placed in a psychiatric clinic. Since the deadline for registration in the European Parliament elections in May was April 14, they will have to make a separate application to vote in the European election.

For comparative information on the electoral rights of mentally impaired citizens check our Conditions for Electoral Rights and read Luicy Pedroza’s GLOBALCIT report on access to electoral rights in Germany.