Political and territorial representation

Why does the Norwegian electoral law include a paragraph securing the representation of less populated areas at the expense of densely populated areas (the so called ‘area factor’)? This article was written to a conference on electoral reform in Portugal, in Lisbon, May 2022. In some circles in Portugal there is a growing concern about the increasing gap between representation of less versus densely populated electoral districts due to population change.

Abstract: The design of any electoral system represents compromises, balancing off (different) democratic principles and different concerns and interests. Importantly, democratic representation is not about the individual vote only. Moreover, the setup of an electoral system is dependent on historical and political factors in each country. The Norwegian solution of combining population size and geographical area represents an effort of adapting to new circumstances, and at the same time taking care of the historical legacy of the electoral system. Despite the fact that area is included in the allocation of constituency seats, people count more than area. Moreover, the effects on the distribution of seats between the parties is modest. Although there are different views on the ‘area factor’ in Norway, it represents a compromise between those who want to keep an overrepresentation of peripheral areas and those who want to stick to population only. At the time of writing, it seems likely that a majority of the parties in Parliament wants to keep it, at least for the next election in 2025.

Keywords: Constituency seats; Electoral system; Norway; Political representation; Territorial representation.