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A really simple guide to Finland's 2022 County Council elections

Yes, there's another election, and yes foreigners can vote in it.

Election workers count ballots in Finland's 2019 Parliamentary election. Image: Jyrki Lyytikkä / Yle

Finland will go to the polls on Sunday, 23 January to elect regional assembly members that will have responsibility for provision of social and healthcare services.

Here's what you need to know.

Wait, there's another election coming up?

Yes! Fans of democracy will be pleased to discover that Finland is scheduled to hold an election of one form or another in each of the next four years, starting with the regional elections in January 2022. Then there will be parliamentary elections in 2023, Presidential and European elections in 2024 and municipal elections again in 2025.

So what are we voting for this time?

People are voting for 21 brand spanking new regional assemblies to take control of health and social care. They take those powers from Finland's 310 municipalities — except for Helsinki, which is big enough to serve as a regional assembly (or 'wellbeing services county', in the official jargon) all on its own, and the autonomous archipelago of Åland, which falls outside the scope of the reforms.

The Helsinki council will assume those powers, so there'll be no election there.

You can see a breakdown of the 21 regions on the map below.

Story continues after the map.

Image: Yle Graphics

Wellbeing services counties. That's quite a mouthful. What kind of responsibilities will these organisations have?

They will organise primary healthcare services, specialised healthcare, dental care, emergency services, mental health services, social care and a host of other such services within their region.

These are public services financed by tax revenue, and the regional assemblies can decide whether to provide the services themselves or to buy them from private providers.

They won't initially have tax-raising powers, so central government will have to pay the bills.

And why do we need this reform?

The idea was to streamline bureaucracy. There has been some inequality between different regions as to the speed and quality of services.

Some regions are losing population too, making it more difficult to justify services in every town.

The reform includes a provision whereby every patient has the right to use their mother tongue when accessing services, and if there is no common language the onus is on the service provider to ensure that the patient or client can access the service in a language they understand.

That sounds good. When do we vote?

Election day is 23 January 2022, when polling booths will be open between 9am and 8pm.

You can also drop off your ballot during the advance voting period, which is from 12 to 18 January in Finland and 12 to 15 January abroad. You will probably spot the advance voting stations in your local library, town hall or shopping mall.

How do I find out if I am even eligible to vote?

Just like at municipal elections, 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. More details are available in English from the Justice Ministry's official election website (siirryt toiseen palveluun).

What are the main issues?

That remains to be seen! Parties will try to push their own themes, and they have started to publish their party platforms, but the responsibilities of the assemblies are quite narrow. National politics will intrude on the campaign too, if debate about health policies prove too narrow for Finland's politicians.

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