Vote Recount Case Dismissed

parliament Alþingi

The Police Commissioner of West Iceland has dismissed a case against the staff of the Northwest Constituency’s election supervision committee, Vísir reports. The staff have received letters informing them of the decision. The letters state that new legislation, which took effect on January 1, makes it unclear whether the staff had broken the law by not resealing ballot boxes between the initial count and a recount of votes.

A recount changed results, which Parliament confirmed

A vote recount in the Northwest Constituency following the Parliamentary election on September 25, 2021 redistributed five of Parliament’s 63 seats. As a result, several candidates filed charges against election proceedings in the constituency. Evidence showed that the election supervision committee had failed to seal the votes after it had completed its initial count and had left them unattended, actions that constituted breaches of regulation. Police had fined election staff, who had refused to pay the fines.

A preparatory Credentials Committee was subsequently established (later succeeded by the actual Credentials Committee after parliament reconvened following a lengthy hiatus) to investigate these claims. Following weeks of discussions and a field trip to Hotel Borgarnes, the committee submitted its findings to Parliament last November. The Parliament then voted to confirm the election results in all constituencies, putting an end to the matter – except for the ongoing police investigation.

New law sows doubt about criminality of actions

West Iceland Police stated that the new election legislation that took effect this year is not sufficiently clear about the obligation to seal election data, though previous legislation had been. Therefore, the Police Commissioner considers there to be doubts about the criminality of the alleged violation.

New Government Must Wait for Election Investigation Results

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir

It’s not possible to present the new government until the Credentials Committee completes their investigation of election proceedings in the Northwest Constituency, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir stated in a RÚV interview this morning. Formal coalition talks between the Left-Green Movement, Progressive Party, and Independence Party are on hold this week while two of the party chairmen attend conferences abroad. Katrín stated it was unusual for a sitting government to be re-elected in Iceland, and that creates certainty despite the ongoing investigation in the Northwest Constituency.

Uncertainty hangs over the results from Iceland’s Northwest Constituency following the September 25 parliamentary election. Over a dozen legal complaints have been filed due to election proceedings in the constituency, where ballots were left unsealed and unsupervised between the initial count and recount that occurred the following day. After conducting an investigation, West Iceland Police stated there were no indications that votes were tampered with, but added they could not confirm that was the case.

Katrín stated that the new government would not be presented until the Credentials Committee had completed their investigation of the case, but that despite the uncertainty in the Northwest Constituency, the overall election results were clear. There is a sitting government and the government clearly held their majority in the election. “So there is really no uncertainty about the government or the majority,” Katrín stated. The negotiations are being conducted on the basis that Katrín will continue as Prime Minister. It has yet to be announced how the other government ministries will be distributed.

Katrín is currently in Glasgow, Scotland attending the COP26 Climate Change Conference. Transport Minister and Progressive Party Chairman Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson is also abroad for a Nordic Council session that begins in Copenhagen, Denmark today.

Police Says No Indication Votes Were Tampered With, But Cannot Confirm

Hotel Borgarnes

Staff of Hotel Borgarnes walked in and out of the room where ballots were left unsealed and unsupervised after the initial count following the September 25 parliamentary election, Vísir reports. Votes in the Northwest Constituency were later recounted, ousting five politicians from their seats. West Iceland Police says there are no indications that votes were tampered with, but stated that security camera footage could not confirm that was the case.

The police investigation into the matter revealed that hotel staff entered the room where ballots were stored while election supervision staff was not present. Election staff had left the ballots unsealed and unsupervised between the first and second counts, both breaches of election regulation. Thirteen people have filed legal complaints with Parliament over the handling of votes in the Northwest Constituency.

Security camera footage from the room where ballots were stored shows hotel staff entering the room. The boxes containing the ballots are, however, not visible in the camera footage. Police have stated they believe it unlikely that the ballots were tampered with while election staff were away, but that they have no way of confirming that belief.

Election staff refuse to pay fine

The Chief of Police in West Iceland has issued fines to all members of the constituency’s election supervision committee due to the handling of election documents. The fines range between ISK 100,000 [$775, €667] and ISK 250,000 [$1,938, €1,666]. Vísir reports that at least two of the committee members do not plan to pay the fines. The media outlet’s sources also state that one committee member believes the first, and not the second vote count, should be considered valid.

Energy and Climate Issues Biggest Stumbling Blocks in Coalition Talks

Iceland President Guðni Th. Jóhannessson and Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir

Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir and President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson met yesterday morning to discuss the ongoing coalition talks between the Left-Green Movement, Independence Party, and Progressive Party. The two are set to meet again at the beginning of next week for Katrín to update Guðni on the progress of the talks. Energy and climate issues have been said to be the main stumbling blocks in the negotiations, Vísir reports.

The Left-Greens, Independents, and Progressives formed Iceland’s previous government and managed to hold onto their majority in the September 25 election. For the past four weeks, they have been negotiating a continued coalition, a process all three party leaders have stated would take some time. The negotiations are conducted on the premise that Katrín will continue in the role of Prime Minister, something that a majority of Icelanders support, according to post-election polls.

Two of the key bills the government could not agree on last term concerned constitutional revisions and the formation of a national park in the Central Highland.

Election Supervisors Fined as Investigation Continues

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A preparatory committee met in Borgarnes yesterday to investigate ballot papers in the Northwest Constituency, RÚV reports. Thirteen people have filed legal complaints over the election results in the constituency following the September 25 election, including five politicians who lost their seats after votes were recounted. Ballot papers were not sealed and were left unsupervised after the initial count, both breaches of regulation that have led some to wonder whether votes could have been tampered with.

Same number of unused ballot papers

Unused ballot papers were recounted yesterday by staff of the National Electoral Commission and the District Commissioner’s Office. The counting revealed that the number conformed with voting document records. Birgir Ármansson, chairman of the preparatory committee, stated that staff were working to “rule out all sorts of possibilities to try to get a holistic picture of what really happened.”

Read More: 13 Legal Complaints Filed Over Election 

The committee questioned staff at Hotel Borgarnes, where ballots were counted and stored, as well as Ingi Tryggvason, chairman of the constituency’s election supervision committee. All of these individuals had already been questioned by police. Birgir says the committee will continue to gather information in the coming days and could not tell reporters when its work would be completed.

Fines issued to election staff

The West Iceland Police department’s investigation of the matter is, on the other hand, complete. The Chief of Police has issued fines to Ingi and all other members of the Northwest Constituency’s election supervision committee, as a proposal for closing the case. According to RÚV, the fine is likely issued on the basis that ballots boxes were left unsealed after the initial count, though this is not confirmed.

According to RÚV’s sources, Ingi has been fined ISK 250,000 [$1,938, €1,666] while others on the committee were fined ISK 100,000 [$775, €667]. If the committee members refuse to pay the fine, the police must decide whether to issue an indictment, which would bring the case to court.

Climate Change at Forefront of Coalition Talks

The chairpersons of the three coalition parties continue to “discuss the issues” in their ongoing coalition talks. Emphasis will be placed on matters relating to climate change, RÚV reports, although the three parties admit to espousing different visions.

Coalitions talks “progressing nicely”

After maintaining their majority in the recent elections, the leaders of the three governing parties have spent the past two weeks discussing the possibility of extending their coalition for another term.

Chairpersons Katrín Jakobsdóttir of the Left-Green Movement, Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson of the Progressive Party, and Bjarni Benediktsson of the Independence Party have kept their cards close to their vest. Following a meeting today, PM Katrín Jakobsdóttir told RÚV that the talks were progressing nicely. “In reality, we’re still going over these different sets of issues and diving deeper into individual points.”

When asked if the three chairpersons were in agreement upon issues relating to climate change and social welfare, Katrín replied in the affirmative: “Yes, I think we can expect to reach an agreement on these issues.”

Taking time to prevent difficulties later

When asked about the state of affairs, Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson remarked that the leaders were reviewing the list of assignments. “We’re trying to reach a united vision on those issues that have yet to be settled from our last term. There are a few points that require additional time, which we’re willing to give, in order to prevent difficulties down the road.”

Bjarni also stated that something needed to be done regarding the clumsy structure of the Master Plan for Nature Protection and Energy Utilization (i.e. Rammaáætlun), especially when it comes to decisions relating to green energy. “We’re excited for the opportunities, to create jobs, to work toward energy transitions, etc.”

Climate change looms large

Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson revealed that although the parties haven’t changed the emphasis have shifted. The threat of climate change looms large and will play a significant role in the challenges to come over the next four years.

Citing the discussion around green investment during the ongoing Arctic Circle Assembly, Sigurður stated: “Mankind needs to extricate itself from the difficult position that it has gotten itself into. We can rightly be proud of our successes over the past decades, but we also have opportunities, and we can continue to be a role model for other countries, which is something that we’ve been discussing; we’re approaching some kind of agreement.”

13 Legal Complaints Filed with Parliament Over the Elections

parliament Alþingi

Parliament has now published the 13 legal complaints that have been filed since the elections took place on September 25, RÚV reports. Most of the complaints originate from candidates who lost their seats due to a recount in the northwest constituency.

Shortcomings in the northwest

On Sunday, September 26, Iceland briefly celebrated a female-majority parliament – before a recount redistributed five of the parliament’s 63 seats and thereby invalidated what would also have been a landmark election in Europe.

Two days after the recount, two candidates filed charges against election proceedings in the northwest constituency on the basis that the election supervision committee had failed to seal the votes after it had completed the initial count. Furthermore, the two candidates complained that the committee had left the ballots unattended at Hotel Borgarnes after election staff went home.

The youngest parliamentarian … almost

As reported by RÚV this morning, parliament has published the now thirteen legal complaints that it has received regarding the elections. Five have been submitted by candidates who lost their seats due to the recount in the northwest constituency: Rósa Björk Brynjólfsdóttir, Karl Gauti Hjaltason, Guðmundur Gunnarsson, Hólmfríður Árnadóttir, and Lenya Rún Taha Karim – the latter of whom would have become the youngest parliamentarian in history at the age of 21 (22 days younger than Jóhanna María Sigmundsdóttir). The Chairman of the Pirate Party’s district council in the northwest, Magnús Davíð Norðdahl, also brought charges to parliament against the legitimacy of the election.

Besides the abovementioned charges, three residents of the northwest constituency – Sveinn Flóki Guðmundsson, Ólafur Jónsson, and Sigurður Hreinn Sigurðsson – also filed legal complaints, along with lawyer Katrín Oddsdóttir and economist Þorvaldur Gylfason. In his complaint, Þorvaldur argues that Ingi Tryggvason, Chairman of the Head Election Supervision Committee in the northwest constituency, had admitted to violating voting laws in statements to the media. Katrín Oddsdóttir maintains that the shortcomings of the election process in the northwest violated the citizenry’s right to free elections.

Rúnar Björn Hererra Þorkelsson, head of the NPA Centre (a support organisation for the disabled) also filed a complaint based, on the one hand, on the shortcomings of the count in the northwest and, on the other hand, on the fact that he, as a disabled person, had been prevented from casting a secret ballot in the Reykjavík south constituency.

Preparatory commission meets

A preparatory commission tasked with investigating the election held an open meeting earlier today. Trausti Fannar Valsson, Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Iceland, and Ragnhildur Helgadóttir, President of the University of Reykjavík, were invited as guests.

As noted by RÚV, Trausti Fannar told the commission that he could find no legal basis for banning the recount of votes during parliamentary elections but that the issue was whether or not laws had been violated during the recount. Ragnhildur stated that the decision rested with parliament: “There was a strong, democratic rationale for the clause being included in the Constitution at the time.”

It remains unclear when the preparatory commission will conclude its investigation.

Nearly 60% Want Katrín as Prime Minister

Although her party lost seats in the September 25 election, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s popularity as a leader has risen. Nearly 60% of respondents in a recent Maskína poll want the Left-Green Movement leader to continue as Prime Minister in the coming term. No other party leader came close to Katrín’s popularity in the poll: just 9.8% stated they would like Progressive Party Leader Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson as Prime Minister, while only 7.6% wanted Bjarni Benediktsson. The Left-Greens, Independents, and Progressives held their majority in the recent election and are now negotiating to continue their coalition.

Katrín’s popularity has nearly doubled

This is the fourth such poll conducted by Maskína, and results show that Katrín’s popularity has nearly doubled since the first poll was conducted in December 2020. Last September, only 36% stated they wanted Katrín as Prime Minister. Katrín was slightly more popular among female respondents than male, while the opposite was true for Bjarni Benediktsson. Other party leaders did not show much variation in popularity between male and female respondents.

From among the opposition leaders, Þórhildur Sunna Ævarsdóttir enjoyed the most support, with 6.3% stating they would prefer her as Prime Minister. Inga Sæland of the People’s Party received the least support, or 2.9%. The respondents numbered 946 and were 18 years and older, located across the country.

Coalition negotiation assumes Katrín’s leadership

Katrín, Bjarni, and Sigurður Ingi are now meeting regularly to negotiate a new coalition. They have been keeping their cards close to their chests regarding the allocation of ministries between the parties as well as the content of the government agreement. However, they have stated that the talks are being carried out on the basis of Katrín continuing as Prime Minister.

Switches Parties Two Weeks After Election

MP Birgir Þórarinsson, who won a seat for the Centre Party in Iceland’s parliamentary election last month, announced on Saturday that he has defected to the Independence Party. Birgir stated that Centre Party members carried out an “organised attack” against him during the election campaign and that his disagreements with the party stretch back to the Klaustur scandal of 2018. While the Independence Party has welcomed Birgir into its ranks, others have accused him of deceiving voters.

Centre Party down to two seats

Birgir announced his decision to leave the Centre Party and join the Independence Party in a column published in Morgunblaðið newspaper on October 9. His move leaves the Centre Party with just two seats in Alþingi, and the Independence Party, already the largest party in the chamber, with 17 of the total 63 seats.

“Well, this stretches back, all the way back to my criticism of the so-called Klaustur scandal, and the reaction I received to that, but I was fully willing to let these thing go,” Birgir told RÚV. The situation changed this year, however. “When we are getting coordinated for the election, an organized attack is literally launched against me during the election campaign and it continues into the election itself.”

Former colleagues cite “backstabbing”

It is rare for politicians to switch parties so shortly after an election, and Birgir’s decision has had mixed reactions from the public as well as his colleagues. Karl Gauti Hjaltason, Centre Party chairman in the Southwest constituency, described Birgir’s decision as backstabbing and wondered how he had been able to campaign for the Centre Party if he felt so badly over an incident that happened three years ago. Centre Party Chairman criticised Birgir for campaigning “under false pretences” and subverting democracy. He added that he considered it peculiar of Birgir to join a party that he had criticised harshly in the past – and that former Centre Party Deputy MP Erna Bjarnadóttir had followed Birgir in the move to the Independence Party.

Pledges to stand behind campaign issues

Independence Party Chairman Bjarni Benediktsson welcomed Birgir to the party in a Facebook post published on Saturday. Birgir says that despite his shift in allegiance, he will not abandon the issues he has fought for in the past. “I campaigned on certain promises and I have certain ideals and issues I speak for in Parliament, and promises to voters in the election campaign, and I will, of course, work to advance those issues and I intend to stand wholeheartedly behind them,” he stated.

The day after his column was published in Morgunblaðið, Birgir appeared in an interview on Christian radio network Lindin. In the interview, he praised his former colleagues in the Centre Party for giving him free rein to speak with “Christian values.” Notably, he expressed disappointment in his new party members who voted in support of an abortion bill that was passed in 2019.

Three-Party Coalition to Continue

Bjarni, Katrín, Sigurður Ingi coalition

Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Chairperson of the Left-Green Party and current Prime Minister, met with President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson on Friday morning to advise him that the current three-party coalition plans to continue its cooperation for another term, RÚV reports.

The coalition, which was formed after much negotiation in 2017, is composed of the Left-Greens, the Independence Party, and the Progressive Party. The coalition signalled that it was considering continued collaboration after they maintained their parliamentary majority in September’s election. Katrín, Progressive Party Chairperson Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson, and Independence Party Chairperson Bjarni Benediktsson have, however, been tight-lipped so far as to the content of their discussions.

See Also: Governing Coalition in Talks for Continued Collaboration

After advising the President of their plans for continued collaboration, the three party leaders met to continue their discussions.