Around 60,000 foreign residents of Oslo who aren’t Norwegian citizens but nonetheless eligible to vote in local municipal elections can have their say on whether Oslo should host the Winter Olympics in 2022. All it requires is a quick trip to City Hall.
Local politicians initially were poised to exclude expatriates in Oslo from voting in the city’s referendum because it’s tied to the national parliamentary election in which only Norwegian citizens can vote. But after complaints that it would be undemocratic to banish tax-paying residents with legal residence permission in Norway from participating in what is a municipal election issue, politicians opened the voting to all who are eligible.
They include those who have been listed in the Norwegian folkeregister as legal residents of Norway for the past three years prior to election day, or who are citizens of another Nordic country with legal residence in Oslo from at least June 30.
With controversy running high over the Olympic project because of its huge costs, complaints continue to fly over the continued exclusion of other Norwegian citizens living outside Oslo. Many claim that voters nationwide should also have been able to express their opinions on whether the City of Oslo should apply to host the Olympics and Paralympics in 2022. They see it as a national event, not least since the state must guarantee the tens of billions of kroner needed to finance it, even though Oslo taxpayers will be primarily responsible.
Complaints are also emerging in local media over a lack of publicity surrounding voting procedures for eligible foreign voters, and over the city’s failure to send them voting cards for the referendum. All citizens eligible to vote in the parliamentary elections received voting cards several weeks ago, informing them of their local polling places. The non-citizens can only vote at City Hall, though, not at neighbourhood polling places, and they must bring identification bearing their Norwegian personal number (a bank card, passport with residence stamps or a drivers license.).
Signs are posted outside the polling places at City Hall that opened for early voting on August 12. Foreign passport holders can use the main entrance on the city side of the building (borggården), with voting booths set up inside to the right.
Polls are open every day through September 6 from 10am to 9pm and this Saturday from 10am to 6pm. The polls also will be open for voting on both Sunday September 8 from 1pm to 6pm, and on the official Election Day on Monday September 9 from 9am to 9pm.
Newspaper Aftenposten reported on Thursday that only 160 of the roughly 60,000 foreigners eligible to vote have exercised their right so far. Some blame that on their lack of knowledge about the referendum and poor publicity on the part of city officials, but the city has run large ads in local newspapers explaining voting procedures. Information is also available on the city’s website: www.valg.oslo.kommune.no/folkeavstemning (external link, in Norwegian).
City officials, including those tied to the Oslo2022 committee that’s already spent millions preparing an Olympic bid, are currently in the process of holding what they call “information meetings” at local schools and libraries. Newspaper Dagsavisen described one such meeting as “pure propaganda” presented by those clearly in favour of the project.
Public opinion polls continue to show a vast majority against hosting an Olympics, fearing the huge costs will come at the expense of more important public services. The athletics community and politicians favouring the bid are continuing their campaign this week and next to encourage voters to approve the project. Actual voter turnout will be critical in determining its fate, though, with all eligible voters, Norwegian and expats, urged to exercise their voting rights.