Voter turnout for Finland’s municipal elections tends to be quite low compared to parliamentary or presidential elections. This is especially true for people whose native language is not Finnish, Swedish or Sámi, with a turnout rate of 23.9 percent in the last elections in 2017.
However, the make-up of a municipal council can have a big effect on daily life. Therefore this election – and your vote – matters, so we've put together this article answering some of the questions you might have.
Let’s start from the start. What are we voting for?
Municipal elections are held every four years to elect local or municipal councillors. Finland has a total of 293 municipalities plus an additional 16 in the Province of Åland.
The number of seats on the council depends on the population of the municipality. For example, if a municipality has fewer than 5,000 residents, there are 13 seats on the council. If there are between 20,000 and 50,000 residents, the council has 27 seats, and so on.
OK I’m with you. So when is it?
The election is now due to be held on Sunday 13 June.
It had previously been scheduled for 18 April but was postponed in March due to the worsening coronavirus situation.
You can vote between 09:00 and 20:00 on election day, 13 June. You can also drop off your ballot during the advance voting period, which is from 26 May to 8 June.
If you're not going to be in Finland for the election you can still vote by dropping your ballot at polling stations in Finnish embassies and consulates between 2 and 5 June.
But why should I care about this?
Municipal councils have huge influence and significant power over daily life in Finland: from schools and daycare provision to health and social care (for now — that is set to change soon), and from planning and parks to recreational facilities, municipal taxes and sports.
In other words, your vote matters because it can make a difference to how your local area is run. Despite this, voter turnout tends to be low for municipal elections (averaging around 60 percent) and especially so among those who move here from abroad.
Article continues after the photo.
In the last local elections in 2017, turnout among foreign citizens resident in Finland was just 19 percent, less than a third the turnout among Finnish citizens. In Helsinki, raising turnout to the same level would equate to an additional 20,000 voters, which would be a significant expansion of the electorate.
Sounds good. But hang on a second, can I even vote?
Almost certainly. Citizens of any country registered as having a "municipality of residence" in Finland for two years before election day can vote. People from the EU, Iceland and Norway can vote after just 51 days of residence.
In terms of this election, your "municipality of residence" refers to the place you live according to the Population Information System at midnight on 26 April 2021.
To make it even clearer, students from Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK) and Aalto University's Media Lab have created a website, canivote.fi, where you can double-check your eligibility.
Seems I can then. But how do I vote?
All those eligible to vote should have received a notice of their right to vote by post. You can take the paper to the polling station, but you don't need to — you will be able to vote without it if you go to your polling station with ID, which can be "an identity card, passport, driver's license or similar pictorial document issued by the police," according to the Ministry of Justice.
If you're not sure where that is, the election service helpline on 0800 9 4770 can help, or you can check the äänestyspaikat website.
The Justice Ministry’s elections website, vaalit.fi, also provides information on the process in English, as well as details in 15 other non-native languages here.
I’ve heard Finland’s voting system is complicated. How exactly does it work?
Finland uses the D'Hondt voting system. This involves voters picking a candidate from party lists. The candidates are then ranked in order of votes received, with places allocated to each list in proportion to the total votes that list received.
In practice, this means parties are incentivised to have as many candidates as they can, and to pick popular individual candidates. One candidate with huge numbers of votes can take a lot of less popular candidates into power with them.
Article continues after the photo.
It also means that your vote benefits the party first, and the candidate second.
However, there's no guarantee that there'll be councillors from any part of the city. For example, two-thirds of Helsinki city councillors live in the capital's wealthier central neighbourhoods, and councillors from the less exclusive outer suburbs say that can have damaging effects on decision-making.
What are the main issues?
On the local level, tax rates and policy squabbles vary widely across the country. In Helsinki politicians are grappling with how to handle the city's rapid growth, while in rural municipalities politicians are desperate to keep services running as best they can despite losing taxpayers and revenue.
On the national level, this election may be treated as an opinion poll on the five-party coalition that's currently in government. Those five parties are the Social Democrats, the Centre Party, the Green Party, the Swedish People's Party and the Left Alliance.
In opposition are the Finns Party, the National Coalition Party, the Christian Democrats and Movement Now. In your municipality things will be different, as each city has its own administration with a slightly different balance of power between the main parties.
What powers do councillors have?
Municipalities in Finland are legally bound to provide basic public services, such as education and daycare, cultural, youth and library services, water and waste management, health and social services.
In municipalities, the council (valtuusto in Finnish) is the highest authority. The council is elected every four years, and it expresses the will of the residents.
The municipal council is responsible for making decisions on the municipality’s spending and activities, as well as determining the municipality’s long-term objectives and goals.
The local council’s tasks include:
- Determining the municipality’s income tax rate.
- Deciding on the basic services for residents, such as social and health care, education and culture, the environment and infrastructure.
- Electing members to the local executive, who implement council decisions.
Who runs for election?
Everyone. Or it can feel like that during the campaign. In 2017 a whopping 33,618 people were candidates in the local elections, and that was a drop of 3,506 on the previous election in 2012.
Article continues after the photo.
Who should I vote for?
That’s entirely up to you, but Yle’s election compass, available in English, aims to help voters find candidates whose views most closely align with their own.
The compass is based on a simple algorithm that asks candidates and voters to respond to certain questions or their views on certain topics before producing a match between users and candidates based on their answers.
Aside from that, candidates will be very visible in town centres and market squares in the run up to polling day, usually under a party-branded tarpaulin offering coffee and small treats in exchange for a quick chat about your voting intentions. This is a good opportunity to ask the candidates about their stance on issues that affect you, so don’t be shy about availing of it.
Another way to find out more about the parties and their policies is to listen to Yle News’ All Points North podcast’s series of interviews with each of the party leaders.
- Prime Minister Sanna Marin of the Social Democratic Party has not joined the podcast as a guest as yet, having had to re-schedule her appearance on three separate occasions.
- Finns Party leader Jussi Halla-aho, who is also in the running to become Helsinki mayor, said his main goal was to attract ballots as candidates securing a lot of votes will lead to a greater proportion of seats for the party.
- National Coalition Party leader Petteri Orpo tried to stay neutral on his party's internal split between liberal and conservative wings.
- Minister for Culture and Centre Party chair Annika Saarikko said her party recognised the problem of discrimination in the labour market and that Finland must become better at integrating people.
- Education Minister and Left Alliance leader Li Andersson told APN about Covid, schools and how Finland learned from the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
- Interior Minister and Green party chair Maria Ohisalo revealed that climate action in a coalition government is not always easy, but Finland's government is finding a way to move towards its climate goals.
- Anna-Maja Henriksson, Justice Minister and leader of the Swedish People’s Party, told APN why non-Swedish speakers should vote for the Swedish People's Party.
- Sari Essayah of the Christian Democrat Party defended Finland's practice of separating school pupils by religion for religious education classes.
- Movement Now’s leader Harry Harkimo said he did not identify with another, more famous presenter of The Apprentice, former US President Donald Trump.
You can hear the latest episode of the All Points North podcast in this embedded player, via Yle Areena, on Spotify or via your favoured podcast provider.
Article continues after audio.
When will we know the result?
Counting usually begins as early as 3pm on election day, with the aim of having the preliminary results ready by 11pm. The result is then confirmed by the central municipal election board the following day.
The timeline runs as follows:
- Advance voting runs from 26 May to 8 June 2021
- Election day is Sunday 13 June 2021
- Official election results announced 16 June 2021 (but we'll know a lot on election night)
- The new council term starts 1 August 2021 and runs for the next four years
And now… time for coffee
After you’ve cast your vote, it is traditional to go for ‘election coffees’. Coronavirus restrictions allowing, there may be a stall outside the polling station selling coffee to celebrate Finnish democracy.