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Advance voting underway in Finland's first county council elections

Election day is Sunday 23 January, but starting on Wednesday, votes can be cast in advance at polling stations in libraries, shops and malls.

County council candidate posters on display in Turku. Image: Kimmo Gustafsson / Yle

Advance voting in Finland's first-ever county council elections starts on Wednesday.

People are voting for 21 brand 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 'wellbeing services county' on its own, and the autonomous islands of Åland, which fall outside the scope of the reforms.

Learn more about the elections in this handy guide.

Election day is Sunday 23 January, but starting on Wednesday, 12 January, votes can be cast in advance at places like libraries, shops and malls until 8pm on Tuesday, 18 January.

Voters can find the locations and opening hours of advance polling stations at the justice ministry's website (siirryt toiseen palveluun).

As in the municipal elections, anyone resident in Finland for at least two years (or 51 days for citizens of EU countries, Norway and Iceland) can vote in the county council elections, even if they are not Finnish citizens.

Yle's 'election compass' (siirryt toiseen palveluun) helps voters get to know the candidates who are running for the county council posts. Answer each question and the compass tells you whose opinions are closest to your own.

Covid in background

Due to coronavirus safety concerns and to reduce the risk of infection, several municipalities are holding the advance voting in outdoor settings as well.

The epidemic has worsened considerably since the Ministry of Justice formally arranged the election in November and then updated plans in December.

Arto Jääskeläinen, Director of Electoral Administration at the Ministry of Justice, said the circumstances are not ideal.

"The situation is not what we wanted," Jääskeläinen said.

However, the Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) and the ministry have jointly concluded that the elections can be carried out safely despite the worsening epidemic situation.

Jääskeläinen said the most important thing in terms of public safety is that voters cooperate with election officials at polling stations. The officials are charged with avoiding congestion at the stations as well as ensuring people maintain safe distances from each other, to prevent the possible spread of coronavirus infections.

"As in the municipal elections, you can bring your own pen," Jääskeläinen reminded voters.

Last year's municipal elections were postponed from April to June, due to the epidemic situation.