Siri Dolven discusses Norwegian election system at ODIHR Seminar

Alexander Shlyk - Photo:Photo: Micky Kroell/OSCE
Alexander Shlyk from ODIHR's Election Department introducing the seminar's first discussion panel. Photo: Micky Kroell/OSCE.

ODIHR’s fourth annual Seminar on Election Observation and Election Campaigns (30.10.18.) focused particularly on election campaigns in the digital age. Siri Dolven from the Norwegian Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation was invited to speak during the Seminar’s first session on OSCE commitments, international obligations and other standards for democratic elections.

Dolven is the Director of the Section for Election and Local Government, and shared her experiences working with ODIHR and the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission to get the Norwegian election system in full compliance with international standards. Her section is currently working on issues related to the merge of a number of municipalities into newly established units, creating the need for new nomination lists for political parties. Improvement of the electoral complaints and appeals system is another issue which is being addressed, to further increase the public trust in Norwegian public institutions and the election system.

The Norwegian Government appointed a public legislative commission in June 2017 to draft a new Election Act. The commission’s mandate is to assess the current electoral system in light of the ongoing changes to regional and municipal structures. Issues such as early voting procedures, counting of votes, mechanisms for final approval of election results, and the already mentioned appeals procedures will be evaluated for possible improvement in line with international standards and best practices. The commission, led by a High Court judge and consisting of election experts and Parliament members, will present its recommendations by December 2019. Recommendations and guidelines from ODIHR are important contributions to the drafting process.

The seminar’s second session focused on fundamental freedoms and election campaigns. Freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, association and movement must be respected throughout any electoral process, and technological developments can create both opportunities and challenges in this respect. The internet and use of social media create opportunities for underrepresented groups to express their opinions and to exchange information, but it also creates risks related to disinformation and manipulation of public debate. A fair and free atmosphere to conduct electoral campaigns is essential in ensuring a functioning democracy. This entails that neither acts nor failures to act by national authorities should bar political parties and candidates from freely expressing their views to the electorate. The need for continued development of ODIHR’s election observation methodology and related guidelines, in order to keep up with the way technological developments affect our societies, was emphasised by several participants at the seminar.