How to vote in the 2022 Swedish election

Sweden's next general election is scheduled for September 11th, 2022, 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 2022 Swedish election
A man in the background looks at which party voting ballot a woman is choosing at a ballot station in Malmö in the 2018 election. Photo: Johan Nilsson/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 2022, that means the election falls on September 11th.

Since the 2018 elections, Sweden has been led by the Social Democrats, first in a coalition with the Green Party until November 2021, and since then in a minority single-party government.

The government was propped up by the Centre and Liberal Parties until June 2021. These parties agreed to to support the Social Democrats’ prime ministerial candidate in the so-called January Agreement at the start of 2019 and vote for the government’s budgets in exchange for a long raft of policy concessions.  

The Centre Party still supports the current government and is unwilling to support a new government which itself is reliant on the support of the far-Right Sweden Democrats. The Liberal Party has, however, switched position, and intends to support Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson as prime minister after the election. 

Stefan Löfven was prime minister until November 2021, when he was replaced by Magdalena Andersson, Sweden’s first female prime minister. 

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, including now the UK, 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.

Around 7.5 million people will be eligible to vote in this year’s parliamentary election, according to preliminary figures from Statistics Sweden published last September. This is up by 180,000 on the 2018 figure. 

The number of first time voters has also grown by 40,000 compared to in 2018, with the group increasing from 5.3 percent to 5.7 percent of the electorate.  

Some 130,000 more foreign citizens are eligible to vote in municipal elections this year, with around 670,000 predicted to cast their ballots.

These numbers will be adjusted as voting cards are sent out in the weeks before the election. 

Sweden has a high voter turnout, with around 87 percent of the eligible population voting in the 2018 election.

READ ALSO: These are the top election issues for foreigners in Sweden: reader survey

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 three weeks before the day of the election on August 24th. 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.

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.

You are only allowed to cast your vote by post if you live abroad, and postal votes can be sent in up to 45 days before election day. 

When you vote, you must take ID with you.

Changed system of ballot papers 

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.

Following criticism from the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the way voters collect their ballot papers has been changed in this year’s election. 

In previous elections, voters would pick ballot papers for the party they wanted to vote for in an open area of polling stations.

The OSCE, in its report on the 2018 election, said that this was a threat to voting secrecy, as others in the polling station can tell which party a person is voting for by looking at which paper they pick up.

In this election, the area holding the ballot papers will be for the first time have to be shielded from public view, so that ballot papers can be picked up in secrecy. 

Previously the only way to keep your vote secret was to collect several different ballots before going behind the screen to vote. 

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.

At the moment, two political parties, the Green Party and the Liberal Party, are below the threshold, with the former on about three percent and the latter on about two percent, leaving their supporters with a dilemma over whether to vote for them, even though there is a risk that their vote will go to waste, and so make it more likely that a coalition is formed by parties on the other side of the left-right political divide. 

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 constituency 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.

Under Sweden’s system of negative parliamentarianism, a candidate does not need 50 percent of MP’s to vote in their favour to become Prime Minister – they just need to ensure that at least 50 percent do not vote against them.

You can find more information in English on the how Sweden’s election will work here on the website of the election authority. 

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INTERVIEW: ‘We, as Moderates, should be good winners on Nato’

Hans Wallmark, foreign policy spokesperson for the opposition Moderate Party, tells The Local that the Social Democrats' imminent decision to support Nato membership for Sweden should be celebrated.

INTERVIEW: 'We, as Moderates, should be good winners on Nato'

When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24th, Sweden’s opposition Moderate Party moved quickly to turn their longstanding support for Nato into a campaigning issue in the run-up this September’s election. With the Social Democrats due on Sunday to shift their position and back Nato, this will no longer be possible. But this does not worry Hans Wallmark, the Moderate Party’s foreign policy spokesperson. 

“I think we, as Moderates, should behave as good winners, not bad winners,” he told The Local on Wednesday night. “The national interest is always bigger and more important than the party interest. So if this current government takes Sweden into Nato, we are going to hail it, and then hopefully, in four or five months from now, we’re going to continue the work as the new government.” 

Wallmark has over the past month been closely involved in the Nato process, as the Moderate Party’s appointee on the Swedish government’s security policy analysis group, which is due to publish its report on Sweden’s security options on Friday. 

“It is a good and comprehensive report,” he says of the result of the group’s six meetings, adding that, in his view, it is not a serious problem if the Left and the Green parties, which are both opposed to Nato membership, dissent from its conclusions. 

He said that his party had been calling for the establishment of such a group since December 2020, when parliament voted for Sweden to have a so-called ‘Nato option’ as part of its security policy. 

“But the government refused that, and then suddenly, some weeks before Easter, they invited us to this analysis group,” he remembers. 

When the government launched the group before Easter, the Social Democrats still did not know which way they were going to swing, he believes. 

“We could all then see that Finland was quite rapidly on its way to a Nato membership, so I think when the government invited the other parties, they, for that moment, didn’t really know what way they should take. But after a while, it was more and more clear that the Social Democratic Party was changing its mind due to the harsh reality of pressure from Finland.” 
Even previous sceptics of Nato membership within the Social Democrats found it hard to justify staying out of the alliance if Finland joined. “Because if Finland joins Nato, then it would have been absurd, and I would say, defence strategically, totally impossible to stay outside.”
Wallmark argues that if Finland joined Nato and Sweden didn’t, the two countries would no longer be able to work together in the same way with common defence planning, severely weakening Sweden’s security. 
“With Finland inside Nato, it would be quite impossible for Finland to have this openness in defence planning with Sweden, in the same way as it is with Norway and Denmark today. They can’t do the same defence planning with us as we do with Finland, because they are Nato members, and we are not.” 
The purpose of the group then shifted from a stalling tactic, to a way of convincing the Social Democrat rank and file of a need to shift policy. “After a while, it turned out to be a tool for the Social Democratic Party to use to explain why they are changing position.” 
Wallmark believes that pressure from Finland and the threat from Russia had both played a part in the Social Democrats’ decision, but he said electoral calculations had also come into play. 
“I truly believe that the war since February 24th is one part of the equation, but also, I think that the risk of having Nato defence and security as election issues is absolutely also part of the equation that made the party change its mind,” he says. 
As a result, he says, he fears that the Social Democrats might be joining the Nato security alliance for the wrong reasons, seeing it simply as protection for Sweden, rather than an organisation through which Sweden can take positive action to improve the security climate in Europe and the world. 
“I think that we shouldn’t join Nato because we are afraid for our own skin. I think that we should join Nato for its own logic and reasons, and that is Article 5, and the common defence planning. So, therefore, I’m a little afraid that the Social Democrats are walking into Nato with the back in the front.”
“I think that the main reason for joining NATO is that Sweden can contribute to the common security in our part of the world. And Article 5 and the common defence planning have been good reasons for 20 years,” he adds. “And now we see how the Social Democrats are changing their mind in well, 20 hours or 20 days.” 
Wallmark says that the Political Declaration of Solidarity the UK signed with Sweden on Wednesday should not be seen primarily as security for Sweden during the gap between applying to join Nato and becoming a member. It is, he argues, an expression of support Sweden has been pushing for ever since the UK left the European Union. 
“It goes back much longer, and is much deeper, and of greater importance [than the Nato process], especially as a political signal that we really want to deepen the cooperation with the United Kingdom, even if the UK is outside and we are inside the EU,” he said. “The centre-right parties with the Moderates in the front have really worked for the government to establish this kind of arrangement.” 
With Sweden’s Nato application likely to be announced within days, Wallmark believes that Sweden should be ready for a reaction from Russia. But he expects that Russia will end up accepting the new reality.
“I think it’s absolutely necessary to be prepared. But we can also see the pattern. Nato has extended, it is now 30 countries… and Russia has barked and showed publicly how disappointed it is, but they have, in the end, accepted the reality.”
“So I think that we absolutely can see things happening in cyber attacks or fake news. But in the end, I think that they are going to accept it.”