Probe launched into ballot ‘scandal’

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The state government ministry in charge of Norway’s municipalities will investigate why hundreds of ballots from communities in the counties of Finnmark in the north to Hordaland in the southwest weren’t delivered in time to be counted in Monday’s national parliamentary election. The delay and subsequent destruction of the ballots is being called a “scandal.”

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that some of the ballots, most of them from advance voting in small outlying communities, had been mailed through the Norwegian postal service (Posten). The envelopes containing the ballots didn’t reach the towns where they were to be counted on Election Day, September 9, and the postal service has already apologized profusely for the delayed delivery.

“We are very sorry about this, and seriously regret that we haven’t delivered the ballots from advance voting in time,” Hilde Ebeltoft-Skaugrud told NRK. The deadline for advance voting is always 9pm on the Friday before Election Day, and all ballots must be delivered to the municipality where the voter is registered before polls close at 9pm on Election Day.

Not just the postal system’s fault
No ballots arriving after 9pm on Election Day can be opened and all must be destroyed. The shredding that’s subsequently been going on in several municipalities around Norway this week means that voters were denied their voting rights, and Posten officials say they’re taking that very seriously.

In several cases, though, the postmarks on the envelopes suggest that election officials themselves failed to get the envelopes with ballots in the mail on time. Some arriving late at ballot-counting locations were postmarked on “09.09.13,” Election Day itself, meaning that they never could have arrived on time and the delay wasn’t Posten’s fault.

“One reason for the delays may be that Posten didn’t manage to deliver on time, but another is that some communities delivered the ballots too late to Posten,” Hans Petter Gravdal, a director in the state Kommunal- og regional ministry, told NRK. “This is what we’ll be talking with Posten about.”

‘Scandalous’
NRK has reported that more than 400 ballots were delayed and subsequently destroyed this week, which Gravdal calls “unfortunate.” Professor Frank Aarebrot, an election specialist at the University of Bergen, calls it “scandalous.” He said that voters who did their civic duty have all reason to be upset by the possibility that their ballots weren’t counted.

It’s unlikely their votes would have changed election results, because they were spread over the country and the numbers were relatively small. At the same time, Aarebrot noted, any delayed ballots are too many, and he thinks the routines for handling advance voting must be reviewed and improved.

“The principle that every citizen has a right to vote must be upheld,” he told NRK. Officials in charge, he said, “must sharpen up and make sure that they have procedures where such things don’t happen.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund