Signs pointed the way to polling places (valglokaler) on Sunday afternoon in several cities and towns that offered a jump-start on Election Day in Norway. A steady stream of voters followed them, while others were lined up when polls officially opened Monday morning.
Voters had also been able to cast ballots in absentee and early voting, but that ended on Friday. The numbers of those doing so in this latest round of local elections in Norway were much higher than in previous municipal voting, and election observers were predicting record high turnout.
Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg was among the first to head for his local polling place at Uranienborg School in Oslo on Sunday. He and his wife, diplomat Ingrid Schulerud, held hands as they walked from their home and carried out what Norwegians call their borgerplikt (civic duty) and exercised their stemmerett (voting right).
“We can best take care of our democracy by using it,” Stoltenberg told reporters gathered to watch him vote. “Voting is the most beautiful expression of democracy that we have, which all of us can use.”
Indeed, Norway’s municipal elections, which choose the parties that will run township and county governments for the next four years, are open to all legal residents of Norway including non-citizens. Only Norwegian passport holders can vote in national elections, but expatriates and immigrants are welcome to cast their ballot in the local version.
“Every vote counts,” Stoltenberg said. “It’s especially important this year. It can show how we as a country and every one of us individually won’t be scared into silence. It’s important to show that we take democracy seriously.”
This year’s formal election campaign was delayed following the July 22 terrorist attacks on Norway, and its tone initially was dampened because of ongoing mourning over the scores of people killed and injured. Politicians were reluctant to engage in the normal bickering that goes on during campaigns, and issues from taxation to the schools suddenly seemed to pale in the face of the tragedy.
The campaign eventually turned into what Stoltenberg called “a normal campaign amidst the abnormal.” He told newspaper Dagsavisen that it was a challenge for him to go from being the country’s statesman in a crisis, to the Labour Party leader exhorting party politics. He admits he felt “less aggressive,” and other party leaders seemed to feel the same.
All have been actively urging Norwegian residents to get out and vote. The election remains important not least, they claim, because people should respond to the violence of July 22 by being engaged and involved, not passive.
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