It's local election time in Norway. And I voted today.
Norway is a constitutional monarchy that holds elections in odd-numbered years. Every four years there's a national election, when they elect their parliament (Storting). The other every four years are local, when we elect our municipal and county parliaments. Apparantly, the deal with parliaments is that you don't vote for individuals, but for parties. So no running on the "independent" ticket here. You have to belong to a party.
As a foreign citizen who's been a resident of Norway for more than three years, I am eligible to vote in the local elections (municipal and county). As a foreign citizen who's been a resident of Norway for more than three years, I may not vote in national elections. Just as well.
So you know it's election year because you get a pre-printed voter's card in the mail (They Know Where You Live), which you bring with you when you go vote. (Don't ask me what it says. I saw my name and address, that was good enough for me.)
This year, 2007, is a local election year (which is why I got my voter's card), and they've been allowing early voting since mid-August. Election day itself is actually Monday. You can tell, because the wine monopoly (the government owned and operated sole liquor retailer in Norway) is closed that day, an otherwise perfectly normal business day. So anyway, I went to our local library, set up as the early-voting poll for my part of town, and voted.
Voting in Norway is a casual and quiet affair, and still quite manual. No chads, no #2 pencils. You hand in your voter's card, get an envelope, and enter one of the booths with a hip-length blue curtain around it. (Close the curtain, moron.) Inside on the back wall, are rows of pre-printed lists for all the parties running in this election - printed on white for the municipal election and on blue for the county, some twelve or 15 lists each. Choose one (oh, God) for municipal and county each (oh, God, _two_ choices out of 30!) and put said chosen lists (only one of each, mind) in the envelope provided. Sealing is optional.
The lists are a list of names in sans serif type. Nobody knows who these people are. Well, I don't. Now, there is some system or other about crossing out names (oh, not any more) and ticking off names to give them extra weight and even adding in names from other parties (that's new). It's bad enough I have to figure out which of the umpteen parties to vote for; I don't have the energy to go beyond that. I have no clue and don't care and am just so incredibly grateful I was able to choose between the baker's dozen of sheets/parties for municipal and the ditto number of sheets/parties for county. And I did seal my envelope.
I handed my sealed envelope back to the lady who had initially given it when I gave her my voter card. I also handed her my ID, which is a new procedure this year. Also new (to me, at least) is the bar code reader. I almost whipped out my debit card because it sounded like I was shopping. She then stuffed my envelope through the slot into a sealed box. And at that point I realized I should already have left and not hung around.
You may think I'm not taking my democratic rights seriously enough or something, but truly, you should be impressed. I managed a feat that baffles even many Norwegians, to the point that more and more of them have simply given up. They stay home.
PS: It took me less time to vote than to type this blog post.