Democracy Volunteers director, Dr John Ault, has called on the Danish Government to urgently reconsider its lack of legislation concerning election observation and introduce a formal process for accrediting domestic and international election observers.
Overall, the observer team was impressed with the very well-run elections conducted in the polling stations we attended. Voting was open and accessible to voters and the number of provisions put in place to give independent access to voters with disabilities was impressive. Polling stations are large and busy venues and staff are welcoming and efficient in processing voters. Like all elections, however, there are some challenges in the electoral process that we feel would benefit from consideration by national and local authorities at legislative and administrative levels.
Denmark is an advanced, inclusive, and engaged democracy with high voter engagement in local and regional elections with active debate and robust party activity.
Providing for independent non-partisan Election Observation
The primary concern that the observer group had was the lack of clarity of access for independent non-partisan election observation. Whilst we were told by our interlocutors that voting was open and public, and as such election observation was lawful (if not legislated for), this understanding of the local context was not universally understood by staff. Because of this lack of clarity on three occasions our observers were either asked not to enter polling stations, watched closely by staff or even, on one occasion, threatened with arrest. On each occasion the Democracy Volunteers team contacted Copenhagen City Council to ensure that the local presiding officer at each polling station understood the rules and our observers were given access. However, if a larger team across a larger geographical area, with poorer communications had faced the same challenges, this could have resulted in the observers being detained – unlawfully.
For obvious reasons we feel this is something that requires clarity in Danish law to bring Danish law in line with Denmark’s commitments under the 1990 Copenhagen Agreement, which states in section 8:
“The participating States consider that the presence of observers, both foreign and domestic, can enhance the electoral process for States in which elections are taking place. They therefore invite observers from any other CSCE participating States and any appropriate private institutions and organizations who may wish to do so to observe the course of their national election proceedings, to the extent permitted by law. They will also endeavour to facilitate similar access for election proceedings held below the national level. Such observers will undertake not to interfere in the electoral proceedings.”
As no legislation is in place for election observers, and as such no accreditation process is in place and consequently training for those running polling stations has no need to deal with the attendance of observers, the process has a high degree of concern when observers might be present. Whilst the vast majority of polling staff were engaged and interested in our work, having a legal foundation upon which election observation can take place, would be preferable in the future to a minority of events which might have led to the arrest of some of our observers despite their work being lawful.
R1: The Danish Government, following consultation with Democracy Volunteers, the OSCE/ODIHR, and other interested election observation groups, should bring forward legislation to provide for election observation in Denmark and produce a process of accreditation.
Ballot Box Security
As in many countries we observe there are numerous types of ballot boxes and consequently numerous ways to seal them. Where we saw coded cable ties and padlocks, we feel this met a good level of ballot box security, but often we saw cardboard ballot boxes sealed with tape, which could, in theory, be tampered with. Whilst we saw no evidence of ballot box tampering, we would suggest that ensuring that ballot boxes are demonstrably not tampered with is preferable to the belief they are not. As such we recommend:
R2: Ballot boxes should be clearly sealed at the beginning of polling and the seal should be coded to ensure they are unique and accepted by independent witnesses.
R3: Ballot boxes should be made of substantial material such as hard plastic or metal.
Whilst arrangements in polling stations to prevent multiple voters entering polling booths is well-established, with use of curtains. Family voting still persists. We therefore recommend:
R4: More attention should be taken by polling staff to assess when family voting is taking place and to take measures to prevent it in the polling booth.
‘Elections should be open to independent scrutiny by impartial non-partisan observers. Indeed, Denmark signed the Copenhagen Agreement in 1990 stating this. Despite that Denmark has never legislated for election observers. I urge the Danish government to seriously consider implementing the obligations of the 1990 agreement signed in their own capital to help improve Danish elections.’Dr John Ault, Director of Democracy Volunteers