Irregularities in the 2021 parliamentary election in Norway

Erik Strand, 30.10.21

In order to run for parliamentary election in Norway, one has to deliver a list of candidates in the electoral district in which one wants to participate, before 12.00 am an March 31th in the year the electionn takes place. If one represents a party that is registered in Partiregisteret (“party register”), and which got at least 5 000 votes nationwide or at least 500 votes in one of Norway’s 19 electoral districts, it is enough that the list is signed by two borad members of the county chapter in the county that contains the electoral district. The same goes for new parties that has collected the necessary 5 000 signatures. Other parties and groups are required to collect 500 signatures from people with voting rights in the electoral district in order to run for election in that district. If for example the Coastal Party wants to participate in the parliamentary election in the electoral district of Telemark, the party needs to provide 500 signatures from people with voting rights in Telemark.

In earlier elections, one has been required to collect these signatures on paper. Before the 2021 election, the covid 19 situation and the restrictions due to covid 19 represented an obvious difficulty in collecting signatures on paper. Therefore, some parties among those which needed to collect 500 signatures in each electoral district voiced a demant that there had to be created a temporary legal framework and a digital solution for the collection of signatures.

The department in charge of elections and Stortinget (the Norwegian parliament) did respond to these demands. On June 23rd 2020, Stortinget passed a temporary law on changes in the Law on elections in order to repair consequences of the covid 19 outbreak. Stortinget’s decision onsisted of passing a new § 6-3 a in the Law on elections. This Article had the following content:

Ҥ 6-3 a The possibility of electronic siganture on electoral list suggestions

The Department can provide a regulation on the possibility of electronic signatures on list suggestions regulated by Law on elections § 6-3 second paragraph litra a in the 2021 parliamentary election.

The department did provide a regulation, and the Election Directorate (“Valgdirektoratet”) was handed the task of creating a digital solution for the collection of signatures. The solution was scheduled to be ready on October 1st 2020. Paries and groups which wanted to participate in the election was given the legal opportunity to collect signatures both on paper and within the digital solution. As I am the Party Secretary of the Coastal Party and had been nominated as 1st candidate in the electoral district of Oslo, I had an obvious interest in the product.

We reached October and the digital solution had to be delayed for some days due to technical difficulties. When the digital solution was ready, I tried to register the Coastal party’s list for the district of Oslo at the Electoral Directorate’s website. It turned out to be a difficult task. It turned out that when one tried to register a larger number of candidate together with year of birth and municipality (or in Oslo district), this was not stored. One can compare it to beeing inactive in your online bank a little to long and being logged out due to timeout. To circumwent this difficulty, one candidate found out that we could register three candidtes, push the “Next” button and then go back. I got reports from those in charge of the party’s list in other electoral districts that they found this system quite bad. We would experience far worse problems with the Election Directorate’s digital solution.

The person who had registred a list for signatures for a party in a particular electroral district (plus a possible deputy) could log in to check who had signed. One person living in Oslo had by own initiative mailed me and told me that this person had signed within the digital solution. I logged in, but this person’s signature was missing. This person confirmed having signed when I asked about it in a new mail. The Coastal Party’s deputy chairperson in Oslo, Morten Netteland, told me about two persons in Oslo whom he had persuaded to sign – and whom had told him that they had signed digitally. When I later logged in to check the number of signatures, i never saw any signatures form these two people.

I got further confirmation that the digital solution was not to be trusted. The Coastal Party tried – of course – to sread the word about the digital solution and ask people to sign our digital list suggestion for the district in which they could vote. Among other things, we had a pinned post conserning signatures on our Facebook page.

I paid for an ad on the Coastal Party in Oslo’s Facebook page. I did this partially in the hope of gaining some signatures, partially for testing the system. The ad encouraged people to sign digitally to help us run for parliament in Oslo. The ad was of course directed solely towards people living in Oslo. Concerning the goal of gaining signatures, this was a waste of money. I did however get valuable documentation.

When you buy a Facebook ad, you kan enter the ad centre and read about how many peeple having been reached by the ad. You van also se more than that. If you have provided th ad with a link, you can see how many people having clicked on the link. I had put a link to the page at the Election Directorate’s webpage where on could sign our list suggestion in the district of Oslo. At one moment the statistics swowed that about 350 people had followed our link to the page where one could sign. The increase in the number of signatures was however modest. It consisted of 2 – two – new sigantures. Morten Netteland later told me about one person whom he had persuaded to sign digitally. This person was one of the two new ones signing. The real increas in the number of signatures due to the ad was thus 1.

Of course, not all people who follow the link does that with the intention of signing. Some may be curious, although I would not expect an electoral list to be among the more interesting things to read. One also needs to have Bank ID present (mobile phone or in most cases a code brick) present in order to sign. Many readres might not have Bank ID ready when they surf the web. I can only guess how many of those following the link actually trying to sign. Maybe 70 % or maybe 10 %? I have no no clue. But 1 out of 350 is ridiculous. I will add thet the number of new signatures – 1 – was far beaten by the number of likes the ad got from people living in Oslo (laughter emojis not counted).

I renewed the ad. This timemy intention was not gaining signatues, but documenting that something was wrong. Totally, the Coastal party in Oslo reached 700 people following the link. The number of new signatures remained marginal (3).

You can find a screenshot showing the results from the ad (in Norwegian) here

I have of course made up some thoughts about the consequenses of a poorly functioning digital solution. If 10 % of the link clicks led to an actual attemt to sign, this means 70 signatures lost. 70 out of 500 signatures would have constitutet a welcome helping hand. If 70 % of the clicks had led to a signature, that would have meant 490 sigatures – the job almost done. 50 % – that is 350 signatures – would have meant a considerable help. If the system had worked, we could have repeated the proedure in other districts, Akershus, Møre og Romsdal, Buskerud, Vestfold and so on. And I will add that we could have reached the goal cheaply. I also mention that the Coastal party in the county of Vestfold og Telemark had a similiar ad in order to gain further documentation. The discrepancy between link clicks and signatures gain was striking tin this case too.

I am not alone in having observed irregularities in the Election Directorate’s digital solution. In an e-mail to the Election Directorate on February 24th 2021, the Coastal Party’s chairperson in Vestland county, Anne Hilleren, wrote the following:

“7. Several persons have had to log on several times without having been able to sign. I have got message from inhabitants who have tried 3-4 timess +. There has also been a discrepancy in the number of signatures on the final list. Bingo game? The consequense was that the inhabitants got tired, and this hurts the democracy we shall have during an election.

In a mail sent on May 31st, Terje Røberg, responsible for the Coastal Party’s list in Akershus, wrote the following:

The Coastal Party in Viken has been contacted by several people. They have wanted to sign digitally in order to give the oastal Party our democratic right to run for parliamentary election. They contacted us afterwards and told us that they could not log in. I, Terje Røberg, have experienced the same thing in trying to log in. I could not log in”.

On can safely conclude that the Election Directorate’s digital solution has not functioned according to Stortinget’s stated intention and has not contributed to free and fair elections.

Articles about the issue in Norwegian can be found here and here