Monday, June 08, 2009

EU Elections in Sweden

I voted in the EU elections yesterday. Along with 18 other EU countries. And about that same number of individual voters. This makes it two major elections for me in the past year. Seven months since the US Presidential elections and now, the EU elections. The benefits of having dual citizenship.

The process was an easy one. There were no lines. There were hardly any people. In fact, I was the only one voting at the time. It was a bit different than an American election though. Starting with walking through the doors.

Standing in front of the doors, creating a gauntlet, were volunteers from four different parties handing out their ballots. I was amazed. And I did not like it at all. I felt that by the time I show up to vote, I need to be left alone to do that rather than being accosted by campaigners trying to get me to vote for their party.

Being the sneaky person that I am, I grabbed ballots from all of them so as not to tip my hand. Once inside, I chose the ballot that I actually wanted and went behind the green triangular curtain to make my choice.

The voting process involved choosing one ballot from a group of ballots advertising the different parties. You are then allowed to choose one person from that one ballot. At which point you stuff your envelope and seal it up. The one ballot one vote means you are essentially voting for a party. The individual voting is called a personröst. You’re voting for that specific person. Otherwise you’re just voting for the party and the party will allocate your vote to whichever candidate they prefer.

I chose a specific person. Because I like to be in control and didn’t want someone else allocating my vote. Having cast my vote, I went to the two lovely volunteers sitting at the desk with their binder full of personal identification numbers and handed over my ballot.

They checked my ID and personnummer and I had officially voted. I didn’t get any “I Voted” stickers like for the US elections though. It was all very simple. So simple, that the lack of people in the voting location was disappointing.

As mentioned, I was alone while I voted. Three other people walked in as I was walking out. Now, one voting locale does not an election make. But the turnout was not impressive. I had read the reports beforehand that turnout was expected to be low some showing that nearly 25% of the Swedish population didn’t even know there was an election going on. That’s not good. Still I was surprised though when faced with the reality of the no-shows.

Looking at the turnout results from the latest elections the EU had a rousing 45.6% of about 342 million eligible voters in 2004. The US is estimated to be around 61.7% of about 215 million eligible voters in 2008. Country by country in national elections, for example the US vs. Sweden, Sweden dominates. By a lot. Impressively so. But EU vs. US, the US actually came out ahead. This election was no different.

With pre-voting having ended on Saturday, only about 12% of eligible voters in Sweden had voted. In the end, only 42.5% of the voting population came out to vote. The Pirate Party made headlines by snagging a seat in the EU parliament. Some people are fired up because they think the party is only about file sharing. Which isn’t completely true. They want freedom of internet basically. Of course, they have no policies when it comes to any other issue. And they are proud of it.

Sweden, luckily, didn’t see the Swedish Democrats, the far-right party, grab a seat. Plenty of other countries did. From the UK to Hungary. That’s the problem when there is such low turnout. A loud minority with extremist ideas can do some damage.

As an American, having always heard that Europeans are so good at voting and that the US has such horrible turnout, I was disappointed to see the results of this election.

I spoke with a few Swedes who hadn’t voted. The excuse I often heard was one that I have heard in the US. The EU parliament seems too far away. It doesn’t really represent the people. There is just too much of a disconnect. Kind of like Washington DC.

I don’t really buy it. I enjoy voting. I think it’s important. I completely blame my AP government teacher from senior year in high school for that. So I voted. Unfortunately more Swedish citizens didn’t. And that doesn’t bode well for an EU that hopes to represent the European population.

Welcome to Sweden. Where voter turnout doesn’t always live up to its reputation.

Subscribe to a Swedish American in Sweden


  1. Good on you for voting Hairy! We need more people like you in this country.
    /a fellow voter

  2. well thanks.. although it seems from the local elections that there are plenty of people willing to vote. its a shame that not more voted in the EU elections.

  3. Since you make a point of saying you're glad the Swedish Democrats didn't get in, I would urge you to go look at the Politik section of their website.

    Basically, they're against the EU, except as a free trade zone, they're eager to protect Swedish unions, and they'd like to regulate immigration differently.

    For the record, I didn't vote for them. I just don't really understand why their views are considered so unholy. Aren't those positions possible for a reasonable person to hold?

  4. I think most people accept ballots from several parties. Or all of them. Or, on occasion, refuse ballots from a particular party to demonstrate disdain. There were no party volunteers handing out ballots where I voted. Noone was there to observe which ones I picked up. I picked up four different ones anyway. It's a good habit being in. Being sneaky. And I put a cross in the box of my favorite candidate. You can also add a name to the ballot if you like. Your own name even. That's how a guy snagged the SD seat in local council in my town in the last election.

    There were ballots for all the registered parties where I voted. My dad told me that the SD ones had been stolen where he voted. In connection with the last national/regional/local election, a social democrat got convicted of tampering after having stolen SD ballots.

    So - I voted. But I don't know if it matters that much. Apparently, the Swedish MEP's tend to all cast their votes pretty much the same way in parliament anyway. And they don't have much say. I don't think they SHOULD have that much say either. I'm pro free trade. I'm pro EURO even. But I'm not pro European Super State. Supposedly we need 170 000 (170.000) EuroCrats to administer the EU. A tenth of that would have been too many! The EU should have little enough power that 1700 would be enough. I also think that those MEP's get way to much money in the form of salary + expense account + HUMONGOUS pension plans.

    I like reading your blog, Hairy. But I can't much like that you can vote in both the US and EU/Swedish elections. Dual citizenship just isn't right.

  5. @Jacob: What's the problem with people having dual citizenship voting in each of their countries' elections? They get to vote twice, but to different governments, different entities. A much bigger problem is people *not* voting, in the US, or in the EU elections. Another much more serious issue is monetary contributions to political about some people, or organizations having more influence than others.

  6. Good for you on making the effort to vote Hairy! I have voted in every single Canadian election since I turned 18. It is a civic duty and a privilege to do so. If you don't vote, you can't really complain about the government. We are so lucky to have democracy and the chance to exercise it. When I was a boy in El Salvador, at election times, polling stations used to get bombed and there were people who were murdered just because of their party affiliation. The voter turnout here is ridiculously low though...just think, on the last Federal Election, out of 70,000 eligible voters for the Kitchener-Centre riding (Where I live), only 7,000 showed up!

  7. @robert – like nearly any political party, there are some thing that people can agree with. However, it is there etreme view on immigration, which, sometimes borders on racist, that makes me glad they didn’t get a seat.

    @Jacob M – I saw that some 14 year old kids were caught trying to bribe officials with 100 SEK to accept extra Pirate Party ballots.

    In terms of voting in two countries and dual citizenship. I disagree. Which might not be all that surprising. But I am very much influenced by both countries. Sweden since I am living here, and the US, because, well, it’s the US.

    I will say this, when I was living I the US, I never voted in Sweden. And even while studying abroad in Sweden, I didn’t vot here. Not until I moved her eindefinitely have I begun voting in the country. That being said, I am still very much an American and want to have a say as to what goes on back home.

    @eklandisk – a good point. My voting twice is not voting twice in the same election. Or for the same person. It is for two very different political systems.

    @Néstor – I really do think voting is important. I know that very seldom does just one vote make a difference. Of course if everyone took that view then turnout would be even lower. And that defeats the purpose of a representative democracy.

    That is an incredibly low turnout for your last election. I’m always shocked when I hear low turnout numbers like that.

  8. Just informed by you that the Swedes have a different way of counting the votes. Interesting, thought the Finnish way had come from there. Maybe I should blog about it too, let's see... must google a bit first :)

  9. Without citizenship you are anyhow allowed to vote in local elections and for EU elections you can vote where you live - I'm Swedish but could have voted in Germany, had I wanted.
    And regarding the very right: Good news, they lost voters in big countries like for example France. So totally they actually have less seats :-)

  10. seems like someone has a great time at the beach or a nice place!
    it's been days since your last update Mr.Hairy!
    i can't help myself but chuckling when i type Mr.Hairy!
    where are you man!?

  11. Hi Hairy

    Our voting experiences were very different, I voted in Årsta:

    I was so excited I even took a photo of my ballot paper:

    I know political geek eh!

    Still I am pleased another expat voted as too many expats I know here didnt bother. I elected to have my vote here rather than in UK as I feel its only to vote where I live.

    Nice to see someone top the poll in Sweden who is not your average career politician - well done Marit!

  12. "In the end, only 42.5% of the voting population [of Sweden] came out to vote."

    In the EU, the percentage of the population that voted was 44%. The lowest percentage since it's inception in 1979.


  13. @Smek – interesting how countries treat elections differently

    @Ann-Katrin – That is good to hear.

    @Mike – I blame the rainy weather. Or something like that.

    @Shane – I love that you took a picture. And Im a little jealous that I didn’t think of it. It was a pretty interesting experience voting in a different election. Glad to hear I wasn’t the only one doing it.

    @Anonymous – that’s just not good…

  14. I am sure there is no law against taking the pic but I really thought I was going to get busted when the flash went off!

  15. now that would have made for a hell of a story.

  16. I love voting , really. Pirate Party all the way!... and really, that's in part cause of my disdain for most of the other parties and how they're turning out, lately (I have some respect for Moderaterna, some for Vänstern, a teensy weensy bit for Centerpartiet, and absolutely none for SD).

  17. Voting is fun. Makes me feel all civic duty like.