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Finland to finally allow postal voting in 2019 elections

Finns living abroad will be able to vote by post in next year’s elections, a change long-demanded by groups representing expatriate citizens.

Äänestyslippu kuoressa
Expat Finns will finally get the chance to vote by post. Image: Petteri Paalasmaa / AOP

Finnish citizens resident outside Finland won’t have to schlep to their nearest embassy to vote in next year’s parliamentary and European elections, thanks to a rule change to finally allow postal voting.

Some 250,000 Finnish citizens with the right to vote reside outside the country, but turnout has been as low as ten percent in some elections among that group. Voting currently has to be done in person, at a diplomatic mission, and Finland’s network of embassies has shrunk in recent years.

Researcher Johanna Peltoniemi says that the difficulty of reaching a voting place is the most common reason for not voting.

“For example a person living in Canada told me that voting in the presidential election would have required changing planes three times each way,” said Peltoniemi. “If there’s a second round in the election, you should do that again. So people don’t vote, even though they might be active in society in other ways.”

Enthusiasm wanes

Peltoniemi’s doctoral dissertation, On the Borderlines of Voting : Finnish emigrants’ transnational identities and political participation , is defended at Tampere University on Friday.

Her research suggested some differences in party preferences between Finns living abroad and those resident in the country.

“Support for the Social Democrats and Christian Democrats is around the same level as among people living in Finland,” noted Peltoniemi. “The National Coalition Party and Swedish People’s Party, on the other hand, have bigger support among expats than among Finnish residents.”

Peltoniemi found that enthusiasm for voting in Finnish elections shrinks with time as ties with Finland loosen after emigration.

Voting rights

The Justice Ministry will publish a form on its website in early 2019 offering citizens the chance to order a ‘voting pack’ which will then be sent out by post. Ballot papers can be returned as soon as candidate numbers are published in March. Finns resident abroad, and Finns who will be outside the country during the election, have the right to request a postal vote. Their ballot papers must be posted from outside the country, however.

Citizens are normally registered in the last voting district they lived in, or in a voting district to which they have family ties, or if they last lived in a district that is no longer part of Finland (for instance eastern Karelia) then their vote is counted in the Helsinki constituency.

Finns resident abroad are eligible to vote in presidential and parliamentary elections, and European elections if they’re not registered to vote in another European Union country.

Finland is due to hold parliamentary elections in April, European elections in May and potentially also elections to new elected regional assemblies founded as part of a health and social care reform.

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