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Voting Covid-safely in Finland's first regional elections

Those in quarantine or high-risk groups may cast their ballots outdoors or from a car.

Outdoor voting in Jyväskylä, central Finland. Image: Jarkko Riikonen / Yle

On Sunday, residents of Finland are voting in the first-ever regional elections, with ballot boxes open until 8 pm. Voters are electing delegates to 21 new county councils, which will decide on social, healthcare and rescue services in each wellbeing services county over the next four years.

Some pundits have predicted low voter turnout due to a perceived lack of public understanding of the new system – but also because of the Covid-19 pandemic, which is still bringing thousands of new infections daily.

Last year's municipal elections were postponed from April to June due to the coronavirus situation. However, electoral authorities decided not to delay the historic county elections.

According to Arto Jääskeläinen, Director of the Electoral Administration at the Ministry of Justice, every effort has been made to ensure safe voting procedures.

"These elections are organised in exactly the same way as last summer's municipal elections. We are operating according to special instructions prepared by THL and the Ministry of Justice," Jääskeläinen told Yle.

Bring your own pen, if you like

He said that all polling stations have good ventilation and that surfaces are sanitised.

Each voter can bring their own pen to write the number of their preferred candidate on the ballot. And everyone should keep in the familiar guidelines of maintaining social distancing, wear face masks and cleaning one's hands.

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Drive-in voting last summer. Image: Petteri Bülow / Yle

Those in quarantine or in high-risk groups may vote outdoors or from a car. This can be arranged in advance by calling the local election station.

The biggest challenge in terms of practical implementation is Covid quarantines, for both voters and election officials. Thanks to the rapidly-spreading Omicron variant, there are many people in quarantine all over Finland.

Jääskeläinen said that those in quarantine also have the right to vote.

"For them, voting will be arranged so that they can cast their ballots outside the polling place," he said.

Under rules set by the electoral commission, voting can take place from a car or at a booth outside the polling station.

According to Jääskeläinen, people in quarantine should contact their municipality's central election committee before arriving to get instructions. Contact information is available here (siirryt toiseen palveluun).