News Review: The Supreme Court’s Verdict Skip to content

News Review: The Supreme Court’s Verdict

The Supreme Court of Iceland ruled yesterday that the Constitutional Assembly election of November 27, 2010 was invalid. Three individuals sued because of the election, two voters and one candidate, on the basis of some aspects of its execution being in violation of the law.


The advance polling station at Laugardalshöll. Photo by Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir.

Upon receiving the lawsuits, the Supreme Court called for the viewpoints of all those involved: Claimants, the National Electoral Commission, the Ministry for Internal Affairs (formerly the Ministry of Justice) and those elected, Fréttabladid’s sources.

Hearings took place before the court and the circumstances at Laugardalshöll sports arena where the counting of ballots took place were inspected.

The Supreme Court agreed to most of the claimants’ arguments. The invalidation of the election is based on six items which the court categorizes as “deficiencies” and “serious deficiencies” (see below).

The Constitutional Assembly election differed from conventional elections in Iceland to various extents. Persons were elected instead of parties and 522 candidates were in the running, as the Supreme Court mentioned in its ruling.

Each candidate was provided with an identification number which was written on the ballot instead of names, people could vote for one candidate or as many as 25 and the ballots were scanned and counted electronically.

The decision was made by Supreme Court judges Gardar Gíslason, Árni Kolbeinsson, Gunnlaugur Claessen, Jón Steinar Gunnlaugsson, Páll Hreinsson and Vidar Már Matthíasson.

Traceable ballots:

Ballots were numbered and distributed to polling stations in sequence and after the election they could be traced back to each polling station. Voters were handed ballots in a numerical order.

At polling stations voters were registered in the order in which they arrived. These two items made it possible to trace each ballot back to individual voters which violates the clause on election secrecy.

Conclusion: Serious deficiency.

Unacceptable polling booths:

The 60-centimeter high cardboard panels which separated voters didn’t fulfill the legal definition of polling booths and didn’t sufficiently eliminate the possibility that people could look at other people’s ballots.

Conclusion: Deficiency.

Ballots couldn’t be folded:

In the general election law, to which the law on the Constitutional Assembly refers, it says that voters should fold the ballot to guarantee secrecy. This isn’t changed in direct phrasing in the law on the Constitutional Assembly.

Conclusion: Deficiency.

Two lawyers, Gíslason and Matthíasson, disagreed with this point. The phrasing in the general election law is that the voter should fold the ballot “in the same form as it was in when he or she received it.” The law on the Constitutional Assembly contains a special clause on the printing of ballots where it isn’t assumed that the ballot should be folded.

Open ballot boxes:

The ballot boxes didn’t fulfill the legal requirement that they should be locked. They could also easily be taken apart and the ballots examined which reduced the safety and secrecy of the election.

Conclusion: Deficiency.

Closed counting:

According to law, the National Electoral Commission should have permitted access to the counting station provided there was enough space and order was maintained. However, it decided to keep the counting closed.

Conclusion: Deficiency.

No representative of candidates present during counting:

According to law, candidates are generally supposed to have two representatives present while ballots are counted. That did not apply in the Constitutional Assembly election.

However, the Supreme Court finds that the National Electoral Commission should have taken into account a different clause in the general election law stating that if representatives are not present, honorable people from the same political organization should preserve the organization’s rights if possible.

The Supreme Court finds this especially important considering that there was doubt on how to interpret the handwriting on 13-15 percent of ballots.

Dr. James Gilmour, a representative of the Ministry for Internal Affairs, monitored the counting but the Supreme Court found his presence to be insufficient.

Conclusion: Serious deficiency.

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