Election observers give Finland two thumbs up, but anticipate voting challenges ahead

The international team visited dozens of polling stations in six locations around the country on election day.

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File picture of someone voting on general election day 2019 / Credit: News Now Finland

A team of international observers who tracked Finland’s general election says the vote was “excellent and well-run”.

The 12-strong team with experts from the UK, Canada, Germany, Italy and Kosovo were part of a delegation from the Democracy Volunteers organisation which arrived in Finland earlier in April.

They met with officials from municipalities, as well as government ministries, to find out more about the Finnish election system.

Although election observer teams are more commonly associated with emerging democracies, Democracy Volunteers looks at best practice in strong democracies too, like Finland.

“Western democracies are not perfect and our objective is to meet with election officials, to talk about the systems they have in the country and see if we can recommend any improvements” says team leader John Ault.

While overall Finland gets high praise for the way the election was carried out, Ault sees what he calls “stresses in the system” as postal voting was introduced for the first time, and more people take advantage of the chance to vote in advance, or overseas.

This inevitably causes logistics issues for election workers.

“In Finland itself 36% of people voted in advance and that means a lot of ability and capacity in municipal councils” explains Ault.

“We have some recommendations on how to improve that, and we have interesting advice” he adds.

Strong media, but too many messages 

One area where the Democracy Volunteers found room for improvement was in all the media messaging about elections.

“It was an extremely well-run election. We saw really high quality voter information, excellent advertising and a simple process for people to access the voting process on the day” Ault tells News Now Finland.

However, on polling day observers found some confusion about where to vote. This stemmed from being able to cast an advance ballot at any polling station; but only being able to vote on election day itself in your home district.

“That does challenge people. People don’t necessarily listen to every piece of advice or information about the election” says Ault.

The Democracy Volunteers election observers went to 65 polling stations in Helsinki, Espoo, Kerava, Lahti, Oulu, Tampere and Vantaa.

The team’s final report, with recommendations, will be sent to the Ministry of Justice for consideration.