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Ministry looks at drive-in or outdoor voting in local elections

The Ministry of Justice says that voting from a car will be tested for the first time at the elections on 13 June.

Helsingin kaupungin varastossa maan alla säilytetään arviolta 300 vaaliuurnaa.
Outdoor or drive-in voting may be possibility in the pandemic. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle

The Ministry of Justice has published a guide to safe voting during the Covid-19 epidemic, which suggests that drive-in or outdoor voting may be a possibility in the upcoming local election.

Finland's Election Act does not prevent outdoor voting on election day, but the ministry does not yet know whether municipalities intend to offer it.

Ari Korhonen from the Association of Finnish Municipalities, who specialises in election preparations and voter safety, speculated that at least the largest municipalities will hold drive-in polls during the advance voting period.

Information on where it would be possible to vote outdoors is to be published on the website before advance voting begins.

Advance voters may cast a ballot at any polling station.

Municipalities to reach voters by social media

Election day is June 13. As previously announced, advance voting will be extended from one week to two, taking place 26 May to 8 June.

"The plan is to spread out the number of voters and avoid congestion," said Election Director of the Ministry of Justice, Arto Jääskeläinen.

The hope is also that a longer advance voting period will make it possible for those placed under quarantine to cast their ballots.

"The time period from the first day of advance voting to election day is a total of 18 days, which is enough time for quarantine or isolation to end," added Jääskeläinen.

According to Heini Huotarinen, a consulting official at the Ministry of Justice, some municipalities plan to use social media to let voters know, in real time, when polling stations are quiet.

In last week's All Points North podcast researcher Josefina Sipinen explained that turnout at local elections is low among foreigners in Finland, and suggested a few reasons why people should try to vote. You can listen to the full podcast using the embedded player here or via Yle Areena, Spotify, Apple Podcasts or your usual podcast player using the RSS feed.

Article continues after audio.

Bring your own pen

Voters placed under quarantine will have special arrangements. There will be two ways for them to vote. The first is voting at home, during the advance voting period.

"If one has not cast one's vote by election day, it will be possible to vote outside one's own constituency. The quarantined person must not enter the polling station," said Jääskeläinen.

Those in quarantine will be able to make known, in advance, that they intend to vote. The arrangements for those in isolation are still being considered.

Jääskeläinen defends postponement

The municipal elections were originally scheduled for 18 April but were postponed because of the deteriorating epidemic situation and "horror scenarios" presented by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).

Currently, however, the epidemic situation seems to be getting better. Election director Jääskeläinen still defends postponing the election.

"The decision was certainly the right one. The situation is improving, but it's still not good enough [to hold an election]," he said.

The conflicting messaging would also have confused the voters, added Jääskeläinen. On one hand, people would have been urged to restrict movement, on the other hand, rush out and vote.

Jääskeläinen expects turnout to remain similar to prior elections. In the 2017 municipal elections, voter turnout was 58.9 percent.

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