Observing elections to improve democracy
Three teams made up of 6 observers made up in teams of two (with a local translator), who were registered with Norway’s Directorate of Elections, and accredited by the Norwegian Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation made 53 separate observations in 53 polling stations across the greater Oslo area.
Each observation was conducted in pairs to allow for objective observation and the observers then agreed their opinions of the electoral process before submitting data to the central team. Each team was accompanied by a local member of staff who acted as both translator and driver.
The observations generally took between fifteen and thirty minutes per polling station as the observers were asked to ensure that they attempted to see the entire process, which included staff greeting electors on arrival at the polling station. This happened on every occasion.
The organisation of polling stations was well run across the area of observation, voters could clearly see how to access voting and staff were trained to manage the process.
Polls were open from 9am to 9pm and the teams were asked to observe an opening as well as a closing of a polling station and tour polling stations throughout the day.
Counting began almost immediately, based in the polling stations before results were transmitted to the central count for checking.
Overall the election was very well run. There are, however, some issues that the observer teams identified which are specific to the Norwegian context which will be discussed here.
In particular, this centres around the secrecy of the ballot when electors cast their vote. Because of the nature of Norwegian polling booths all ballot papers are displayed to every voter.
On some occasions voters did not completely close the curtain behind themselves and, especially during busy times of the day, when staff might be otherwise occupied they remained unclosed so that others in the polling station could see which slot the voter took their ballot from. As all voters have access to all ballot papers this is a slight weakness in the system.
Other polling stations, outside Oslo, had other forms of polling booths. These allow for slots to be placed and replaced by staff to suit the number of parties contesting the election. On one occasion, in Ski, it was noted that one party was missing from those that should be present.
In rare cases, especially during bust periods, it was also clear which parties were performing well as ballot papers were not always replenished efficiently and, as such, gaps could be seen where parties were performing well.
1. It is incumbent on staff, as well as voters to maintain the secrecy of the ballot and this is especially the case when the voter is required to enter, and close, a booth. In almost all circumstances this was the case but without staff being vigilant this could constitute a problem in Norway’s voting process. Because all ballot papers are ‘on display’ as the voter arrives in a booth, if the curtain is not closed, it can be very clear for whom the voter is casting their ballot.
2. Observation of the process of voting was very open and accessible to the observer teams, however, access to observe the opening and counting of votes was less clear. One team attended the closing of a well-run polling station which then seamlessly continued to open the ballot boxes and count, and the observers were able to follow the process closely. However, the team which attended Oslo Town Hall were unable to observe the opening of the ballot box and to follow the process closely at all. They were kept at a distance by local officials and were unable to observe the counting of votes. This was deemed to be unacceptable by the Mission Head and this feedback was given to the local officials. No action was taken to rectify this problem.
We would like to thanks the officials at the Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation as well as polling staff for their helpful and prompt assistance in facilitating the election observation as the system was both clear and simple to navigate. The briefing offered on Sunday 10th September which explained the electoral system and voting process to observers was especially helpful.