Guest Blog by Nina Niskanen
It's election season in the US, although when is it ever not these days? That's beside the point. The next election here in Finland isn't going to happen until next year, but I feel like this is as good a time as any to think about the differences.
Who's eligible to vote
Everyone 18 and over who's a Finnish citizen on election day. Finnish authorities keep a civil registry and absolutely everyone gets a notice of being eligible to vote. When you vote, you don't necessarily need the notice (more on that later), but you do need to prove your identity with a picture ID. In Finland, all official identification is handled by the police, which means that you can get a temporary ID immediately and at the cost of roughly 15€ which is the cost for the official photograph. That free ID is only temporary, though, but it is enough to allow you to vote. Almost everyone in Finland has a picture ID by the time they turn 18 at the very latest, so in general, showing picture ID when voting isn't considered a burden on the voter. But then, the authorities try to make it as easy as possible for people to get the documents they need to prove their identity.
Actual campaigning doesn't usually start until about a month before election day, if then. The ministry of Justice starts handling the candidate applications no more than 55 days before the presidential election, and 48 days before any other election. Because you vote by putting the number of your candidate in your ballot, there's no point in starting your specific campaign before this happens. Of course incumbent politicians will try to raise their profile through scathing critique if they're in the opposition or through creating sound policy while they're in government. Or through gossip column inches like some. But before they know what number they should tell you to vote for (nobody gets #1 ), it's pointless to start campaigning.
What's more, since Finland has a multi-party system, all the parties are guaranteed an equal amount of election ad spots provided by various cities. If an individual person gives more than 800€ for a general election or 1500€ in a presidential election, that individual's name has to be shown on the candidate's advertisements. The same goes for any groups electioneering on behalf of a candidate or in support of a candidate. No Super PACs here without donation disclosures. The candidates or their campaigns must also disclose all the money used in their support, including by groups not directly associated with the campaign. If they don't, they get fined. In general, there's a lot less money in Finnish politics than there is in American politics, and that's largely by design. The amount of money used to secure a seat is going up, but even so, we're a long way away from the millions spent on US elections.
Early voting starts 11 days before the election day and ends 5 days before the election day. Most often the early voting places are not the same as the election day polling places, and you can vote early basically anywhere in the country and out of it. So, for example, if I happened to be visiting my colleagues in Oulu before the election, I could vote by visiting an early voting polling place in Oulu just as easily as I could here in Helsinki. On the day of the election you do have to go to your own polling place. Which brings me to the thing that actually gave me the idea for this post. In my story "The Scale of Defiance" that appears in Recognize Fascism, there's a line that says "They’d be removed if they tried to intimidate people around the polling places". It was originally something more vague, using the word "couldn't" or something. And that holds true of actual Finnish elections. You cannot electioneer in or around polling places. You will be removed and fined. If you wear merch that supports a specific party or candidate, you will not be allowed to vote. If you get belligerent, you can be charged with a specific crime for trying to prevent political participation. Chants or speeches supporting a candidate or a party are likewise forbidden. The crowds we've all seen reports of trying to physically stop people from voting early around the US? Really, actually illegal here in Finland, not just lip service. If/when we put the fascists in power, we try to make sure that it actually is the will of the people.
Voting is a privilege, so make sure you use it as often as you possibly can.
Nina Niskanen writes science fiction, fantasy, and horror. She lives in Helsinki, Finland, with her partner, and her dog where she works as a computer programmer. She is passionate about space, language, and creepy crawlies. She’s a graduate of Viable Paradise and Clarion UCSD. More at ninaniskanen.com
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