Elections and Referendums

Danish citizens primarily influence political decisions by voting in elections for the Danish Parliament and the European Parliament, and in local and regional elections. Under certain circumstances, citizens may also be consulted through a referendum.

Større


Denmark is a representative democracy, which means that citizens elect representatives to make day-to-day political decisions. Politicians are elected to the Parliament for a limited period of time, after which they must stand for re-election if they wish to retain their seats.

However, there are exceptions to the representative principle. The Constitutional Act of Denmark specifies certain circumstances where the entire electorate may or must be consulted directly and have the final say in a referendum. For example, a referendum must be held in connection with a proposal to amend the Constitutional Act or to change the voting age.

Picture: General election

General elections are a cornerstone of Danish democracy. This is where the electorate decides which candidates and political parties will be represented in the Danish Parliament, thereby influencing the future direction of Danish politics and society.

According to the Constitutional Act, there must be a general election at least once every four years. This means that Members of Parliament (MPs) hold their seats for a fixed term, but they can be re-elected. The Prime Minister is responsible for calling a general election before the electoral period expires, i.e. within four years, but an election may also be called earlier at the Prime Minister’s discretion.

Who can vote?

Danish citizens who have permanent residence in Denmark, Greenland or the Faroe Islands and are at least 18 years of age, the voting age in Denmark, are entitled to vote.
The turnout at general elections is high in Denmark compared to other countries, with 80-90 per cent of the electorate casting their vote.

Who can be elected?

To be eligible for election as a Member of the Danish Parliament, candidates must be entitled to vote in a general election, and must not have been convicted of an offence that makes the candidate unworthy to sit in the Parliament. Members of Parliament decide whether a candidate is worthy to sit in the Parliament.

A political party that wants to stand for election must be eligible, and a large effort is involved before a party’s name will appear on a ballot paper.

Picture: Elections 

Eligible political parties

In order to stand for a parliamentary election, a party must either already have one or more seats in the Parliament or have collected a number of signatures corresponding to 1/175 of the valid votes cast at the last election, i.e. roughly 20,000 signatures.
When the signatures have been collected and submitted to the Ministry for Economic Affairs and the Interior, the party is eligible to stand for election.

Independent candidates

Most candidates at general elections stand for a political party. If candidates stand as individuals and not as members of a party list, they are referred to as independents. However, very few people actually do this because it requires a large number of personal votes to be elected in this way.

On election day, everybody who is entitled to vote in a general election can go to one of the polling stations located throughout Denmark and cast their vote. 

Picture: Voting at general elections

Voters will receive a poll card by post well in advance of the election day. The poll card will tell them where and when to vote.

Polling stations

On election day, polling stations will have been established throughout the country, usually at town halls, schools and sports centres. Returning officers are responsible for overseeing that elections are conducted according to the rules. They also count the votes afterwards.

Secret ballots

Voters hand in their poll cards at the polling station and receive a long ballot paper listing the names of the parties and the candidates running for election. The ballot is secret and votes are cast in polling booths so that nobody can see for whom people vote. 
Voters can put a cross either beside the name of a person or a party.

Blank and invalid votes

People who do not wish to vote for any of the candidates or parties who are running for election may choose not to mark the ballot paper, thus casting a blank vote. Formally, the ballot paper is invalid and will not be included in the result. But invalid ballot papers are included in the total number of votes cast and thereby influence the size of the turnout. So unlike citizens popularly known as stay-at-home-voters who do not exercise their right to turn out and vote, some voters return a blank ballot paper to show that democracy matters to them. 

A ballot paper is invalid if:

  • the vote on the ballot paper is not marked with a cross,
  • it cannot be determined with certainty which of the parties or independent candidates the voter wished to vote for,
  • the ballot paper must be assumed not to have been handed out at a polling station, or the ballot paper has an unusual appearance.

Voting by post

An alternative to voting in person is by post. Thus, people who are unable to get to a polling station, for instance because they are not in the country or because they are hospitalised, can still vote.

When the polling stations close, the votes are counted and the 175 seats can be distributed. 

 General elections results 

The Danish electoral system

Seats in the Danish Parliament are distributed in accordance with a method known as proportional representation. This is a fairly complicated, but mathematically fair, method of distributing votes.

The system guarantees that political parties gain seats in the Danish Parliament in proportion to the number of votes cast for them throughout the country. For example, if a party wins 10 per cent of the votes, it must also have 10 per cent of the seats in the Parliament. 

Distributing seats in the Danish Parliament

Denmark is divided into ten large multimember constituencies, which are again divided into smaller nomination districts. Each multimember constituency is allotted a number of constituency seats.

The constituency seats are distributed between the parties in proportion to the number of votes they have won in the individual constituencies. The distribution of the constituency seats ensures that all parts of the country are represented in the Parliament, and not just the big cities where the majority of voters live.

When the constituency seats have been distributed, the compensatory seats are distributed in a way that ensures that each party receives a number of seats corresponding to the number of votes won at national level.  

Election threshold

Parties that win very few votes will not be represented in the Parliament. There is a lower limit, an election threshold, of 2 per cent to the number of votes a party must win to be elected to the Parliament. If a party wins less than 2 per cent, as a rule all of the votes cast for that party will be lost. However, if the party has won a constituency seat, the party will enter the Parliament nonetheless. This is extremely rare in practice, however, because if a party wins a constituency seat, it will normally have won more than 2 per cent of the national votes. 

Election thresholds in other countries

There is no mention in the Constitutional Act of Denmark of an election threshold, but a court ruling has established that this principle is not in conflict with the Constitutional Act. The 2 per cent minimum is relatively low compared with the norm in many other countries. For instance, in Germany the election threshold is 5 per cent, in Sweden and Norway it is 4 per cent, and in Turkey it is 10 per cent. The Netherlands and Finland have no election thresholds.


 Valg 4

 Valg 4

The Danish Parliament is not the only decision-making institution in Denmark. Some decisions are made closer to the public, in the regions and municipalities, and municipal and regional elections are held every four years.

Regional and municipal elections 

Since 1 January 2007, Denmark has been divided into five regions and 98 municipalities. The regions are run by members of regional councils who are elected by people living in the regions that they represent. Municipalities are run by members of municipal councils.

Elections to municipal and regional councils are held every four years on the third Tuesday in November, as laid down in the Local Government Act. 

Who can vote? 

In order to be entitled to vote in municipal and regional elections, a person must be at least 18 years of age and have permanent residence in one of the municipalities or regions. Furthermore, to be entitled to vote a person must either:

  • be a Danish citizen; or
  • be a citizen of another EU member state, Iceland or Norway; or
  • have had permanent residence in Denmark for three years before the date of the election.

Who can be elected?

Anybody who is entitled to vote in municipal and regional elections is also eligible for election to municipal and regional councils. However, a candidate must not have been convicted of an offence which makes him or her unworthy to be a member of such council

The European Parliament is the only body of the EU whose members are directly elected by citizens of the EU, i.e. it is the EU's directly-elected assembly.

Elections to the European Parliament 

Elections to the European Parliament are held every five years. 

Who can vote

People can vote in European Parliament elections in Denmark if they are:
Danish citizens, have permanent residence in Denmark or another EU Member State and are at least 18 years of age; or
citizens of another EU member state, have permanent residence in Denmark and are at least 18 years of age.  

Who can be elected?

Anybody who is entitled to vote in a European Parliament election is also eligible to be elected to the European Parliament. However, all candidates must stand for a political party and be included on its list of candidates, or establish their own party. Thus, independent candidates are not eligible.

Under special circumstances, citizens may be asked to go to the polls and vote on a concrete issue. For example, a number of issues involving Danish membership of the EU have been put to referendum.

Referendums

According to the Constitutional Act of Denmark, certain circumstances require that the public rather than the politicians have the final say.
In these situations, the Constitutional Act states that the entire electorate may or must be directly involved in making a decision through a referendum. If, for instance, a proposal has been made to amend the Constitutional Act, one of the requirements is that citizens must be asked to accept or reject it. For a constitutional amendment to come into force, at least 40 per cent of the electorate must accept it.

Rules for referendums

According to the Constitutional Act, there are five circumstances under which a referendum may or must be held, and where the result is binding, namely in connection with:

  • certain Bills which a large group of MPs (at least 60) wish to bring before the public (Section 42);
  • transfer of sovereignty (independence) (Section 20)
  • certain international treaties (Section 42, subsection 6);
  • amending the Constitutional Act (Section 88);
  • changing the voting age (Section 29).

However, not all Bills can be subject to a referendum. This applies to Finance Bills and Fiscal Bills, for instance.

Consultative referendums

Members of the Danish Parliament and regional and municipal councils may also decide to hold a consultative referendum. This means that citizens are consulted prior to politicians making their final decision. To date, the Danish Parliament has only held one consultative referendum, namely in 1986 where the Danes were consulted on the so-called EU package.

Who can vote?

Danish citizens with permanent residence in Denmark, Greenland or the Faroe Islands and who are at least 18 years of age are entitled to vote in referendums.