The point in question here is whether votes cast in all parts of the country should carry equal weight. The question does not cover the issue of whether the country should consist of one or more constituencies.
Votes of equal weight or different weight
Unequal weighting of votes means that more votes will be needed in one constituency than in another in order to have a member of parliament elected. In the 2009 general election, there were 2,366 voters on the register for each MP elected in the Northwest constituency, compared with 4,580 in the Southwest constituency. In the latter case, therefore, more than twice as many votes were needed to elect an MP.
With equal weighting of votes, there would be no such difference between the constituencies. In the 2009 general election, there were 3,977 voters on the register for each MP elected in the Reykjavík South constituency, compared with 3,979 in Reykjavík North. Votes in these two constituencies carried equal weight.
The way things are now
Ever since Iceland’s first general election in 1844, there has been imbalance in the weighting of votes from one constituency to another, though this has been reduced in recent years.
Under the fifth paragraph of Article 31 of the Constitution, the imbalance may not be greater than a ratio of 1:2, and seats may be transferred between constituencies if the ratio gives occasion for doing so. This happened in 2003 and 2009 in the Northwest constituency. In the next general election, one seat will be transferred from the Northwest to the Southwest constituency, where there will be 13 seats instead of the 12 there were in 2009. This will bring the number of MPs from the Northwest constituency down from ten as they were in 2003 to eight.
The Constitutional Council’s proposals
The council proposes in Article 39 that all votes in the country carry equal weight, and also that the Althingi may decide that the whole country is to be a single constituency, though it may also choose to split it into more than one, in which case only some MPs (a maximum of 30 out of 63) would be elected on a constituency basis. The explanatory notes to this proposal state that the principle of having votes in all parts of the country carry equal weight is, in substance, an innovation. As to whether the country should be a single constituency or not, the council has taken a middle road, since it proposes that candidates would be able to address their campaigns to particular regions or constituencies, while voters would nevertheless be able to make their choice from among all candidates in the country.
Discussions and arguments
All the Nordic countries, except the Faroe Islands, have a constituency system for electing MPs, and the same is true of most western democracies. In a constituency system, ensuring balance between constituencies can be complicated. Greater equality in the weighting of votes, and even more or less complete equality, can however be achieved in such a system.
The main argument in favour of having the same weighting of votes in all parts of the country in general elections is that it is natural that all voters should have an equal say in the election, irrespective of where they live and other social circumstances.
The main argument in favour of having differences in the weight that votes carry is that otherwise, the major population have too much influence, at the expense of the rural areas. It is therefore natural that those who live in the rural districts far from the administrative centres and the seat of government should have more MPs than could be expected on the basis of their numbers alone.