Voter turnout heading for new highs

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Municipal and county elections will formally take place all over Norway on Sunday and Monday, but thousands of Norwegians already have exercised their right to cast early ballots. Their sheer numbers seem to confirm predictions that total voter turnout will be high.

The Socialist Left party (SV) is trailing in the polls and has launched a last-ditch effort this week to drum up voter support, also from the immigrant community. PHOTO: Views and News

Norwegians were struck by new feelings of solidarity and a need to preserve their democracy after the terrorist attacks of July 22. The message from King Harald, Crown Prince Haakon and not least Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg was to respond to the violence with “more solidarity, more compassion and more democracy.” Stoltenberg and the leaders of all political parties have been urging residents of Norway to exercise their franchise and vote.

Statistics released by elections officials suggest the population has taken the message to heart. Early and absentee voting is running nearly twice as high in Oslo, for example, as it did in the last municipal elections held four years ago, in 2007.

As of Saturday, a total of 54,603 voters already had cast their ballots in Oslo. That compares to 33,685 ballots cast a week before formal voting took place in 2007.

All told, 55,921 persons voted early in 2007, not much more than the amount who already have done so, and the period for early voting – meant to accommodate those who won’t be in town on the official Election Days of September 11 and 12, and those who simply don’t want to stand in line or have other things to do those days – runs until September 9.

At the municipal elections in 2003, meanwhile, a total of 44,394 voted early, much less than the numbers now.

Record numbers of young and first-time voters are expected to cast ballots in the municipal elections, which decide the make-up of city and county governments. They are held every four years like the national elections, but are staggered to occur between national elections, last held in 2009 and due again in 2013.

National elections generally attract higher voter turnout than municipal elections, even though the latter are open to residents of Norway who do not hold Norwegian citizenship. That means more people are eligible to vote in the local elections, and that they are the only chance for non-citizens to make their voices heard at the polls. Most political parties have been making a concerted effort to attract the immigrant vote in the upcoming election, claiming it can make a difference and even be decisive.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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