According to the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities voter turnout has shown a declining trend in recent decades. After bottoming out at 55.9% in 2000, participation rebounded to 61.3% in 2008 but declined to 58.3% in the last election.
Among migrants, the figures tell the same tale of apparent waning interest in the process. Researcher Merja Jutila Roon of the Social Democratic think tank, the Kalevi Sorsa Foundation, released a study in November 2016, in which she observed that non-Finnish voters were less active in municipal elections in Finland than immigrants in other Nordic and European countries.
In the last local government election in 2012, voter turnout among the 136,957 foreign nationals entitled to vote was just 19.6 percent. Roon found that in local government elections in neighbouring Sweden, voter turnout among immigrants was 36 percent and more than 70 percent for the entire population.
Turnout in Finnish Municipal elections
Many foreigners ignorant of right to vote
The foundation turned to the pollster TNS Gallup to conduct interviews to find out why migrants in Finland didn’t more actively exercise the right to vote. Roon found that the main reason given for not voting was ignorance of the right to vote.
"According to it [the survey] 39 percent of immigrants who have not voted were not aware of their right to vote in municipal elections," Roon wrote.
The researcher noted however, that migrants who had gained Finnish citizenship tended to become more active in the local election. In the same year that 19 percent of migrants voted overall, some 39 percent of new Finns opted to exercise their franchise.
Voter turnout an indicator of integration success
Roon argued that voter turnout among immigrants is an important metric of the success of integration and participation.
"From the perspective of societal cohesion it is important that everyone feels they can influence their own living conditions and participate in common decisions. However discussions about integration and social and political inclusion have received less attention," Roon pointed out.
She noted that current integration programmes primary target unemployed immigrants. She added that immigrants who come to Finland to work may not necessarily even know they have the right to vote. At the time that the study was conducted, official information about the right to vote in municipal elections was distributed mainly in Finnish and Swedish.
"It is useless to deliver information about the right to vote in languages that the recipient will not necessarily understand… Merely listing immigrant background candidates for the election is not an appropriate way to activate voters."
Nowadays the Ministry of Justice, which is responsible for the voting process, provides information about the right to vote in 16 different languages apart from Finnish, Swedish and Sámi. Turnout in the 2017 local government election will prove how effective – if at all – new efforts to reach immigrant voters have been.