(Sept. 11, 2020) On June 3, 2020, the Norwegian Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation (Kommunal- og moderniseringsdepartementet, KMD) sent a proposal for a legislative consultation (høring) on amending both the Norwegian Constitution and Norway’s Election Act to allow the government to postpone general elections under extraordinary circumstances, such as a global pandemic. The proposal with request for comments follows the delivery on May 27, 2020, of an Election Law Committee report to the KMD. (NOU 2020:6 Frie og hemmelige valg – Ny valglov.) The Election Law Committee was set up in 2017 to recommend amendments to the Norwegian Election Law.
Under current law general election dates cannot be postponed or otherwise changed, and the national election for members of the parliament must take place every four years in September. (§ 54 Grunnloven [Norwegian Constitution]; § 9-1 Valglov (LOV-2002-06-28-57) [Election Act].) The next national parliamentary election is scheduled for September 13, 2021.
Under the new rules recommended by the Election Law Committee, elections could be postponed in crisis situations when voters would be prevented from voting—for instance, as a result of natural catastrophes, acts of terrorism, or epidemics—provided that the sole purpose of the postponement was to ensure voters’ ability to vote. The committee recommended that any postponement be limited to no more than one month and that other measures, such as adding more polling stations or expanding the size or capacity for voting in current polling stations, be implemented during crisis situations that could affect the number of persons voting.
In addition, the committee recommended that the parliament formulate a constitutional amendment, to be approved by a two-thirds majority of the next elected parliament, containing rules governing the reholding of elections should that be necessary for some reason. (NOU 2020:6 Frie og hemmelige valg – Ny valglov.) Amendments to Norway’s Constitution require that the parliament vote in favor of and publicize a proposed amendment in the parliamentary gazette, and that following a general election, a newly elected parliament approve the amendment by a two-thirds majority (§ 121 Grunnloven). Thus, the 2021 national parliamentary election date cannot be postponed or changed because an amendment to that effect could not enter into force until a general election had taken place. However, some other suggested changes that do not require constitutional amendments could enter into force before the next election.
The deadline to respond to the request for comments is December 31, 2020. As of September 9, 2020, only the Ministry of Transport had responded that they had no comment. The request for comments has gone out to more than 100 stakeholders, including, among others, the Supreme Court, 20 Norwegian political parties, all government ministries, the Norwegian Directorate of Elections, and universities.
Also in June 2020, the Norwegian parliament passed an amendment adding a new provision (§ 6-3 a) to the Election Act that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, allows government ministries to use electronic signatures in creating the list of proposed candidates for the 2021 elections.