Democracy Volunteers deployed 20 observers across Denmark in yesterday’s local and regional elections. Overall, the election was very well administered giving voters free and open access to the voting process.
As a member of the Global Network of Domestic Election Monitors (GNDEM), Democracy Volunteers has an agreed code of conduct for observers. All observers are trained and briefed before deployment on polling day, and they sign the organisation’s code of conduct before observing. Our observer teams observe in teams of two, completing an online form once they have made their observations in each polling station.
Generally, our observers were greeted warmly by elections staff wherever they visited polling stations and counting. The team also held constructive meetings with interlocutors, such as election administrators and political parties, in the days preceding polling day.
In total, the observation team attended 85 polling stations across 9 kommune areas. Individual feedback to those kommunes, as well as a final written report, will be given in approximately 8 weeks time.
Despite the well-organised and well-resourced election being well conducted, as part of this brief initial statement our team believes that Denmark should urgently look at the provisions of the OSCE Copenhagen Document (1990). Denmark, is a signatory, and was the official host, to the Copenhagen conference at which it was signed. Denmark has no provision for election observers in its legislation, but because polling stations are generally considered open and public, election observation is ‘allowed’ if not ‘approved’. (The relevant section of the Copenhagen Document can be seen below.)
However, on three occasions on election day Democracy Volunteers’ observers were either barred, obstructed or removed from polling stations by election administrators, one group was even told to leave the polling station, or the staff would call the police to enforce this. On all occasions our observers complied with requests made of them by administrators, despite it not being within the spirit or accepted practice in Denmark. All three of these events took place within the City of Copenhagen and none in other council areas where we were very welcome to observe.
Once notified of these events, our core team contacted the Copenhagen electoral authorities and apologies were given for these events.
Commenting, Dr John Ault, Director of Democracy Volunteers said;
‘Democracy Volunteers has been observing elections across Europe since 2016. Never before have any of our observers been threatened with arrest by elections staff in polling stations whilst on deployment overseas.’
‘This is both unacceptable and a breach of the international law, law that was drawn up in the very city where these threats were made.’
‘Denmark’s elections were extremely well run in the main yesterday; it is a shame that legislation concerning observers has not kept pace with the international standards that Denmark is a party to. We would urgently recommend that the Danish government formalises the process for the provision of election observers to be recognised in law, and subsequently to be accredited, so that no future election observers are subject to these unfortunate events.’
Recommendation: The Danish Government should urgently enact the relevant provisions of the 1990 Copenhagen Document which allows for ‘appropriate private institutions and organizations’ to observe elections within Denmark. This legislation should also create a transparent process by which election observation is formally recognised within Danish electoral law and consequently accredited for future elections.