How to vote in the 2018 Swedish election

Sweden's next general election is scheduled for September 9th, 2018, and you may be entitled to cast a vote on the day even if you're not a Swedish citizen. Here's how, plus what you should know about the Swedish political system before you head to the polls.

How to vote in the 2018 Swedish election
Sweden's parliament: you can have your say in who gets a seat. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

How Sweden is run

There are three different levels of government in Sweden: the national parliament (Riksdag) which has 349 seats, the 20 county councils (landsting), and 290 municipal assemblies (kommunfullmäktige). These three levels don't form a hierarchy but rather each has its own areas of responsibility.

Sweden holds elections for each of these three bodies every four years, always on the second Sunday in September. In 2018, that means the election falls on September 9th.

Since the 2014 elections, Sweden has been led by a minority government made up of Prime Minister Stefan Löfven's Social Democrats (S) and the Green Party (MP), whose spokesperson Isabella Lövin is deputy prime minister.

For eight years before that, the country was governed by the centre-right Alliance, made up of the Moderate Party (M), the Liberal Party (L), the Centre Party (C), and the Christian Democrats (KD).

The seventh and eighth parties represented in parliament are the Sweden Democrats (SD) and the Left Party (V).

Who can vote?

To vote in Riksdag (parliamentary) elections, you must be a Swedish citizen and aged over 18 on the day of the election.

Non-Swedish citizens can vote in county and municipal elections if they are citizens of an EU country, Iceland or Norway. Citizens of other countries also get the right to vote in these elections if they have been registered as a permanent resident in Sweden for three consecutive years before the vote.

Meanwhile, Swedish citizens living abroad can also vote in parliamentary elections; they get this right automatically for their first ten years abroad and after that need to apply to the Swedish Tax Agency (Skatteverket) every ten years to remain on the electoral register. Swedes who are temporarily abroad over the date of the election can vote by post, in an embassy, or by proxy.

People casting their votes in Sweden. Photo: Dan Hansson/SvD/SCANPIX

Around 7.3 million people will be eligible to vote in this year's parliamentary election, according to preliminary figures from Statistics Sweden in September. This is up by 98,000 on the 2014 figure, though a drop is expected in the number of first-time voters and those aged between 18 and 24.

More foreign citizens are eligible to vote in municipal elections, with around 580,000 predicted to cast their ballots. That represents 7.4 percent of the total number of voters in municipal elections. 

Sweden has a high voter turnout, with around 86 percent of the eligible population voting in the 2014 election.

How do I vote?

In the weeks leading up to the election, voting cards are sent out to all eligible voters from the Election Authority, also known as Valmyndigheten. These are sent to the address you are registered at with Skatteverket, so it's important to make sure your personal details are up to date.

This letter will also include information about the location and opening time of your nearest polling station on election day. These are municipal buildings, usually schools or libraries. In some locations, it's possible to cast your vote in advance, starting 18 days before the day of the election; if you do this, you can use any advance polling station, but if you vote on the day, you must go to your designated location.

Voters head to the polls in Sundbyberg. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

If you have a good reason (including illness or disability) you can vote by proxy instead, in which case someone else will cast your vote on your behalf.

When you vote, you must take ID with you.

At the polling booth, there are different ballot papers for each of the three elections taking place: yellow papers are for the Riksdag elections, blue for the county council, and white for the municipal council.

There are also different kinds of ballot papers, allowing you to vote either for a particular party (without identifying a specific candidate), to choose from a list of candidates as well as parties, or to vote using a blank ballot paper. On blank ballot papers, you can write down any party and candidate. In theory, it's possible to write anyone's name, and if that person got a large enough proportion of votes, they would be elected.

You then put the ballot paper you picked in an envelope and hand it to the election officer in the room.

And remember: in Sweden, voting is done by a secret ballot, so you do not need to tell anyone who you voted for if you don't want to. You're allowed to collect several different ballots before you go behind the screen to vote (only put one in the envelope though), if you want to make sure nobody suspects who you're voting for.

Ballot papers at a polling station in 2014. Photo: Pontus Lundahl / TT

How is the winner chosen?

Sweden has a one-chamber system, and MPs are elected using proportional representation under a similar system to many European countries. This means that the number of seats each party gets in parliament roughly equates to their share of the nationwide vote.

However, parties must gain at least four percent of the national vote in order to enter parliament, or three percent to enter a county council or regional assembly. For municipal assemblies, the threshold is either two or three percent, depending on how many constituencies are in the municipality.

Sweden is divided into 29 constituencies for parliamentary elections (roughly one for each of the 21 counties, with the larger counties of  Stockholm, Skåne, and Västra Götaland divided up further), each of which has between two and 43 seats depending on their population. Fixed constitency seats make up 310 of parliament's 349 seats, with the remaining 39 distributed so that each party's proportion of seats matches up to their proportion of the national vote as closely as possible.

If one single party gains more than 50 percent of the vote, its leader becomes prime minister, but this is very rare in Sweden. Usually, the party that wins the largest number of seats will try to form a government by building a coalition with other parties that hold similar stances. For example, the current government is a red-green coalition made up of the Social Democrats and the Green Party.

For members


Sweden Elects: The latest political news as the election campaign kicks off

What's Sweden talking about this week? In The Local's Sweden Elects newsletter, editor Emma Löfgren rounds up some of the main talking points ahead of the Swedish election.

Sweden Elects: The latest political news as the election campaign kicks off

In an interview that could have jeopardised his job a decade ago, Social Democrat Immigration Minister Anders Ygeman’s suggestion in DN that there should be a 50 percent cap on non-Nordic immigrants in troubled areas of Swedish cities showed how the debate has shifted in recent years.

That said, his comments did not go without criticism. The Left Party slammed them as “racist”, the Greens and the Centre Party also criticised them, and so did the Moderates and some within the Social Democrats.

Ygeman himself said that he had been misunderstood, that he had never meant it as an actual proposal, and that factors such as crime and unemployment were far more important in terms of integration.

“But of course segregation is not just class-based, it also has an ethnic dimension. If you have areas where almost everyone is from other countries, it’s harder to learn Swedish, and if it’s harder to learn Swedish, it’s harder to get a job,” he told public broadcaster SVT.

What do you think? Email me if you want to share your thoughts.

Campaign posters and a new poll

The centre-left Social Democrats and the Moderates, the largest right-wing opposition party, both unveiled their campaign posters last week, which I guess means that the summer holiday lull is officially over and the election campaign is now definitely under way. Just over a month to go.

It’s interesting that the Social Democrats are clearly trying to turn this into a “presidential” style campaign, taking advantage of Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson’s overwhelming popularity compared to the Moderates’ Ulf Kristersson, whose reception among voters is lukewarm.

A poll by the DN newspaper and Ipsos a month ago suggested that 37 percent of voters want to see Andersson as prime minister, compared to 22 percent who preferred Kristersson (12 percent preferred the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats’ leader Jimmie Åkesson, and the other party leaders did not get more than four percent each).

Andersson is in the unique position where voters like her way more than they like her party – a new opinion poll by Demoskop suggests that 28.7 percent would vote for the Social Democrats if the election was held today (the Moderates would get 20.3 percent). The same poll has all the right-wing parties with a slight majority compared to the left-wing parties.

Anyway, the Social Democrats’ campaign posters cover pensions, schools (specifically, limiting profit-making free schools), crime and law and order. Climate change is conspicuously absent, but a party spokesperson told reporters it will be more prominent in its social media campaigns.

When Kristersson, on the other hand, spoke at his party’s event to kick off their election campaign, he emphasised how he’s got a viable coalition on his side – a jibe at the Social Democrats, who will struggle to get their partners (specifically the Centre and Left parties) to collaborate.

He also reiterated his praise for the Sweden Democrats, and The Local asked several experts if the Moderates are the same party that fought the 2018 election, when Kristersson promised Holocaust survivor Hédi Fried he would not cooperate with the Sweden Democrats after the election.

Election pledges

The Local’s Becky Waterton has looked at the election pledges of Sweden’s four main parties, the Social Democrats, Moderates, Sweden Democrats and Centre Party. Click here to read her guide, it’s a really useful roundup.

And what about Covid? Is Sweden’s handling of the pandemic not going to be a talking point in this election? No, at least not if the parties have their way. The Social Democrats run the government, but most of the regions (who are in charge of healthcare) are run by right-wing coalitions. So from a strictly realpolitik perspective, no party is able to attack another without putting themselves at risk of becoming a target. Best forget about it.

In other political news…

… a Sweden Democrat member of parliament has been accused of sending unsolicited dick pics to women, the Moderates want to legalise altruistic surrogacy in Sweden, the Christian Democrats want a national scheme to improve maternity care, the Liberals want to make it harder for people with a criminal record to become Swedish citizens, and Centre Party leader Annie Lööf hit the campaign trail just before the weekend by pledging to reject any proposal for raised taxes after the election.

Sweden Elects is a weekly column by Editor Emma Löfgren looking at the big talking points and issues in the Swedish election race. Members of The Local Sweden can sign up to receive the column plus several extra features as a newsletter in their email inbox each week. Just click on this “newsletters” option or visit the menu bar.