The Main Features of the Norwegian Electoral System – Summary

Published under: Stoltenberg's 2nd Government

Publisher Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development

Main principles, legal basis

The Norwegian electoral system is based on the principles of direct election and proportional representation in multi-member electoral divisions. Direct election means that the electors vote directly for representatives of their constituency by giving their vote to an electoral list. Proportional representation means that the representatives are distributed according to the relationship to one another of the individual electoral lists in terms of the number of votes they have received. Both political parties and other groups can put up lists at elections.

In the case of parliamentary elections Norway is divided into 19 constituencies corresponding to the counties, including the municipal authority of Oslo, which is a county of its own. The number of members to be returned to the Storting is 169. The members are allocated to the constituencies according to the area of the county and the size of its population. Nineteen seats – one seat from each county – are allocated as seats at large.

In the case of local government elections members are returned to municipal councils and county councils. Each municipal authority and each county represents one electoral division. The rules governing how many members are to be returned are laid down in the Local Government Act. The county/municipal council itself lays down the number of members within statutory minimum figures in relation to the size of the population of the county/municipal authority area.

The electoral term is four years for all elections. Elections to municipal and county councils are conducted at the same time and are held midway in the electoral term of the Storting. Election Day is fixed by the King to a Monday in September, usually in one of the first two weeks of the month.

The Constitution has some fundamental provisions concerning parliamentary elections. The detailed provisions for the conduct of both parliamentary and local government elections are contained in the Representation of the People Act 2000 (Act No. 57 of 28 June 2002). Regulations have also been issued and these contain further provisions in some areas.

Right to vote and eligibility

Voting age is 18 years and this age must have been reached by the end of the year of the election.

At parliamentary elections only Norwegian nationals are entitled to vote. At local government elections Nordic nationals are also entitled to vote provided they were registered as resident in Norway no later than 31 May in the year of the election. Other foreign nationals are entitled to vote provided they have been registered as resident in this country for the last three consecutive years before Election Day.

All those intending to vote must be included in a municipal authority’s register of electors. The register of electors is a list of all persons in the municipal authority area who are entitled to vote at the election. A person’s residential address on 31 May in the year of the election is decisive of where he or she is registered.

The basic principle is that any person who is entitled to vote at an election may also be elected and is bound to accept election. However, some people are disqualified from election because they hold public office/positions which for reasons of principle ought not to be combined with service as a popularly elected representative. It is possible to apply for exemption from election on specific conditions.

Preparations for elections

In the case of all elections it is the municipal authority that is responsible for the practical conduct of the election. In every municipal authority area there shall be an Electoral Committee that is elected by the municipal council. The Electoral Committee is responsible for the conduct of the election in the municipal authority area. If polling is to be held in two or more places in the municipal authority area, the conduct of the election in each place is to be presided over by a polling committee.

In the case of parliamentary elections and elections to the county council there shall be in each county a County Electoral Committee that is responsible for conducting the election at county level, that is to say for all the municipal areas together.

In the case of parliamentary elections a National Electoral Committee shall be elected with no fewer than 5 members. The National Electoral Committee has the task of distributing the 19 seats at large, as well as handling appeals.

Both registered political parties and other groups may put up lists at elections. The procedure is that they produce proposals for electoral lists, which are then subject to the approval of the electoral authorities. The list proposals must reach the electoral authorities by 31 March in the year of the election. They shall contain the names of the candidates who are standing for election for the party/group. Proposers who are not registered political parties with a certain amount of support at parliamentary elections, must provide documentary evidence of popular support in the form of a certain number of signatures in support of the list proposal.

The list proposal constitutes the starting point for what is to become the ballot paper of the party/group. Detailed rules have been issued for how ballot papers shall look.

Polling

The Electoral Committee determines into how many polling districts the municipal authority area shall be divided and announces when and where polling will be taking place on Election Day. The municipal authority may lay down that the election shall also be conducted on the Sunday before the official day of election. All polling stations must close no later than 8.00 pm on Election Day.

Voting on Election Day normally takes place in the following way:

  • Voters go to a polling booth and take the ballot paper or papers they wish to use.
  • Voters make any changes to the candidates’ names, and fold their ballot paper(s) together.
  • The ballot paper(s) is/are stamped by an election official before being placed in the ballot box.
  • All electors who come to vote shall be crossed off in the register of electors. Electors must have been crossed off before they place their ballot papers in the ballot box.

In the case of local government elections the electors can influence which of the candidates are to be elected by casting personal votes. They can give a personal vote to as many of the candidates on the list as they wish. This is done by placing a mark in a box beside the name of the candidate. In the case of elections to the municipal council it is also possible to give a personal vote to candidates on other lists. This is done by writing one or more of the relevant candidates’ names in a special area on the ballot paper. In the case of parliamentary elections voters can renumber the order of the candidates on the list by placing new numbers in front of the candidates’ names or crossing out names by placing a mark in a box to the right of the candidate’s name.

Electors who so wish can vote in advance. Advance voting inland starts on 10 August and lasts until the last Friday before Election Day. It is the municipal authorities that are responsible for receiving advance votes. The Electoral Committee decides where advance voting shall take place; this is typically the town hall, the service centre and similar places. It is possible to vote in advance in any municipal authority area whatsoever, that is to say also in other places than where a person lives. The ballot is sent by post to the elector’s home municipal area.

Electors who live abroad, or who are abroad on Election Day, can vote in advance from 1 July. As a rule advance votes abroad are given to a returning officer at a Foreign Service mission. If it is not possible to go to a returning officer, it is possible to arrange voting by oneself and to vote by letter post.

The count and final determination of the election result

The Electoral Committee is responsible for all counting of ballot papers in the municipal authority area and decides how the count shall be conducted. It shall be done in two rounds: a provisional and a final count. This means that all ballot papers are counted at least twice. In the case of municipal elections the determination of the election result is arrived at by the Electoral Committee. For elections to the county council and to the Storting it is the County Electoral Committee that determines the result.

The determination of the result is performed in two rounds. First it is discovered how many representatives the individual list shall have (the distribution of seats). Then the candidates are designated from the individual lists (the returning of members).

The allocation of seats is based on distribution in relation to the total vote polled by each individual electoral list. For all types of election the calculation is performed on the basis of Sainte-Laguë’s modified method (using the divisor series 1.4, 3, 5, 7, 9 etc.).

In the case of parliamentary elections one of the seats in each county is excluded from the County Electoral Committee’s calculations. This seat is allocated by the National Electoral Committee as a seat at large.

The returning of members takes place differently depending on what kind of election it is. In the case of elections to the municipal council a party may give a certain number of the candidates on its list an increased share of the poll. This increased share corresponds to 25% of the total number of votes polled by the list. Together with the personal votes from the electors this constitutes the basis for the returning of members. In the case of elections to the county council the personal votes from the electors are decisive for candidates who have received personal votes from no fewer than 8 per cent of the party’s electors. Otherwise members are returned in the order in which their names appear on the list. In the case of parliamentary elections the voters’ changes on a list have in practice no influence on the returning of members. The members are returned in the order in which their names appear on the list.

Appeal

Any person entitled to vote at the election can appeal against matters relating to the preparation and conduct of the election in the county/municipal authority area where the person in question is included in the register of electors. An appeal must be brought within seven days after Election Day.

If the appeal concerns the determination of the election result, it must be brought within seven days after the result of the election has been approved by the municipal council and the county council respectively. In the case of parliamentary elections an appeal against the County Electoral Committee’s determination of the result must be brought within seven days after the election result has been determined.

In the case of local government elections the Ministry is the appeal body. The Ministry’s decisions in appeal cases are final and cannot be brought before the courts for review.

In the case of parliamentary elections the Storting is itself the appellate body when it comes to the franchise and the right to cast a ballot. For other appeals the National Electoral Committee is the appellate body.