Finland is piloting postal voting for the first time in April's parliamentary poll, giving a voice to some 250,000 eligible voters overseas. Here's what to do.
How: Expatriate Finnish voters must first fill in an online form (in Finnish and Swedish) requesting the ballot package be mailed to them. The Ministry of Justice will then mail them a voting package, which includes a ballot, ballot envelope, a letter to be filled in by the voter, and an envelope in which it is all sent back to Finland by 12 April. Voters pay for their own postage when returning the ballot to Finland. Candidate numbers are available on the Justice Ministry's page around a month before election day (14 April).
When: Ballots can be mailed back to Finland from 14 March onward to the voter's municipality. If the municipality has the voter's address on file, the Population Register Centre will send a polling card indicating the right to vote around 1.5 months before the election day. This card indicates where to return the ballot. Voters unsure of which municipality to return the ballots to can inquire with the Ministry of Justice or the Population Register Centre.
To note: Two witnesses who are not family members must sign a document included in the voting package assuring that the ballot was cast in secret and without coercion.
More detailed instructions on advanced voting in Finland are available from the Justice Ministry.
Voice for Finland's diaspora
"The process is quite simple and smooth and we believe voters will think so too," Arto Jääskeläinen, the Justice Ministry's director of electoral administration, told Yle News.
Some 250,000 people are eligible to vote in the election, according to the Justice Ministry. More than 100,000 of these voters reside in neighbouring Sweden, according to Finland Society, a group promoting the interests of Finns living abroad.
Pensions, benefits priority
Finland Society has campaigned for postal ballots for decades. The quarter of a million-strong Finnish diaspora accounts for 5.6 percent of all eligible voters, a group politicians are now looking to appeal to.
"Expat voters are interested in issues pertaining to pensions, dual citizenship and Finnish schools abroad," Tina Strandberg, executive director of Finland Society, explained. "Most importantly it’s a form of societal participation and staying connected."
In past elections, just ten percent of those eligible voted in person at Finnish consulates. The cost of travelling to a Finnish embassy or consulate discouraged many voters.
"It would be great if we could double that number," Strandberg explained, adding that voters' right to a secret ballot was one issue that slowed down the government’s approval of mail-in votes - a problem the Justice Ministry has now solved by requiring vote witnesses.
Finnish citizens abroad will, however, still be able to vote in advance in person at Finnish diplomatic and consular missions. Advance voting at overseas missions will take place between 3 and 6 April.
Postal voting documents for the European Parliament elections can be requested as of 26 March.