High voter turnout sends a message

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Norwegians cast ballots in Monday’s local elections at a rate not seen for 28 years. Early and absentee voting also set new records, illustrating just how motivated Norwegians were to influence policy and set off the political change that the elections brought.

Lines were long at this polling place in Oslo on Monday afternoon. Voter turnout was the highest in 28 years. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

The state elections directorate reported Tuesday that preliminary numbers indicate voter turnout of 64.5 percent, up 4 percent over the last municipal- and county council elections in 2015. The directorate itself had urged all eligible Norwegians and legal residents of Norway to exercise their right to vote, sending text messages to Norwegians and personal letters in the mail to legal residents just before Monday’s election.

It seems to have had an effect. Voter turnout hasn’t been so high in a local election since 1991. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported on Tuesday that fully 68.2 percent of eligible voters in Bergen cast ballots, the highest participation in local elections since state statistics bureau SSB (Statistics Norway) started keeping track in 1975.

Turnout in Vestlandet (Norway’s western region) as a whole was pegged at 67.7 percent, and at 67.5 percent in Oslo. The lowest turnout was in Vestfold and Telemark, at just under 62 percent.

Election analysts hadn’t expected more than 60 percent but voters clearly were committed to taking part and ushering in political change. The Greens ended up with their best elections results ever, while both of Norway’s largest established parties (Labour and the Conservatives) lost support.

Voter participation in Norway’s southeastern city of Sarpsborg jumped 10 full percentage points after some local patriots mobilized and actively urged friends and neighbours to cast ballots. The Alvim area, which had set a dubious record of having Norway’s lowest voter turnout in earlier elections, could report voter turnout of 43.5 percent. That’s still low by Norwegian standards but was sharply up from 2015 and registered in an area with a high concentration of immigrant residents who don’t always feel included or interested in local politics.

“This is super!” claimed Nysret Xhafa, leader of an Albanian organization in the area who had been among those encouraging residents to vote. “As long as politicians meet us and speak clearly, folks will figure out how they’ll vote,” Xhafa told NRK.

A record number of Norwegians and eligible residents also voted ahead of Election Day this year, 875,584 to be exact. Temporary polling places were set up and opened in late August for those who wouldn’t be in Norway on Election Day or didn’t want to get caught in long lines. Several cities also offered voting on both Sunday and on Election Day itself, Monday September 9.

“It’s a trend we’ve seen for some time now,” election researcher Johannes Bergh told NRK. “There have been more people voting early at every election in recent years.” He thinks it’s mostly a matter of practicality, an opinion verified by two young men voting for the first time in Bergen last week.

“We’d just been to a school debate and got the latest information before we made a final decision,” Anders Håkon Namtvedt told NRK, adding that he’d been evaluating two specific parties. “I’m also busy on Election Day, so wanted to vote in advance. It was exciting and a pretty big occasion. I’m 95 percent certain I made the right choice.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund