More than 100 international election observers are in Norway to follow voting procedures at polling places around the country. Many are simply in the country to learn about how elections are conducted, but some of those monitoring local voting have already found faults and errors, some of which they contend are serious.
Election observers are often viewed as being needed only in countries with weak democracies or where there is no democracy at all, but they can play an important role in countries like Norway as well. The Helsinki Committee, a human rights advocacy organization that actively monitors elections around the world, has brought 34 experienced observers from 11 countries to Norway to systematically watch voting from the northern to the southern part of the country for the third time.
The discovery by a voter on Monday of unsealed ballot boxes at the Munkerud School polling place in Oslo was considered “a serious error” that needed to be quickly corrected, members of the committee claimed when the matter was brought to their attention.
“Internationally it’s considered a serious error when ballot boxes aren’t sealed and there can be room for manipulation,” Berit Lindeman of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee in Oslo (Den norske Helsingforskomité) told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).
Election officials acknowledged the error and claimed to take the incident seriously. They said, however, that the ballot box was attended by at least two election workers at all times and that no manipulation occurred. Committee officials only partially accepted the explanation.
Other observers discovered that pencils instead of blue or black pens were being offered at one polling place in Oslo, another violation of election rules, while another polling place lacked voter cards for The Liberal Party. They were quickly tracked down.
Around 140 election observers were accredited to watch voting in Norway for the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), with most of them learning about elections in an established democracy but several actively monitoring. OSCE officials have suggested changes and improvements to Norway’s system of voting in the past, without all their recommendations being followed. More openness has emerged around party finances, however, and laws have been passed to demand locked ballot boxes and that candidates can’t work at polling places.
Lindeman worries that many trusting Norwegians don’t understand how easily election fraud can occur, or how important it is that elections are observed.