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EXPLAINED: How does early voting work in Sweden?

Early voting began in Sweden on August 24th, with Christian Democrat leader Ebba Busch and Green leader Märta Stenevi both casting their ballots the day polls opened. But how does the system work in Sweden and can you change your mind?

EXPLAINED: How does early voting work in Sweden?
People cast early votes at a polling station in central Stockholm. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

If you live in Sweden, you should have received your voting card (röstkort) in the post, with information about the location and opening time of your polling station on September 11th, the day of the election.

But you can also cast your vote in advance, something a growing number of Swedish residents are choosing to do so. In the 2018 election, 37 percent of those eligible to vote voted in advance, up from 23 percent in 2002. Of those who actually voted, 47 percent voted in advance, up from 39 percent in 2010. 

Who can vote in advance? 

Anyone who is eligible to vote in national, regional or municipal elections can vote in advance. If you have received your voting card, it will include information on which elections you are allowed to vote in here. You can also find out about the requirements to be eligible for each election in this article). 

Where can I vote in advance? 

On your voting card, it states which vallokal or polling station you are registered at — usually a school or other public place. But these stations only open on election day.

To vote in advance you need to go to one of the places each municipality designates for advance voting. 

You can find a list of all the places where you can cast your vote early here. Here’s a map showing early voting polling stations in Stockholm, here’s a map for Gothenburg, and here’s a map for Malmö.

What do I need to bring to vote in advance? 

All you need is your voting card and a piece of ID, either an identity card, a passport, or a driving license. Don’t worry if you’ve lost your voting card, though: many stations offering advance voting will print out a replacement röstkort, if you happen to be passing by and decide to vote on impulse. 

The green party’s spokesperson Märta Stenevi votes early in Stockholm. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

What happens when I go to the polling station? 

The early voting stations are staffed by volunteers who will direct you to the voting booth, and, if necessary, show you how to vote. Depending on whether you can vote in parliamentary elections, or just municipal and regional ones, you will either receive three or two envelopes. 

The voting booth has a curtain that can be closed so no one can see which party you choose. Inside, there are rows of voting slips or valsedlar for each of the parties competing. There are separate voting slips for the parliamentary, regional, and municipal elections. Some slips have the names of individual candidates on them, so you can give a personal vote, and some have no names, so you just vote for the party. 

You place the slip for the party you want to vote for in each of the three elections in an envelope (you can vote for different parties in at the national, regional, and municipal level), if you want to, you tick the name of the person you want to have your vote, then you seal the envelope and give it to the person at the desk. 

The people at the polling station then write down your voting card number on each envelope for you, and post the voting envelopes (which have a small opening showing the colour of the voting slip) in each of the ballot boxes for the national, regional and municipal election. 

What’s the advantage of voting in advance? 

It’s much less crowded, and you normally don’t have to queue (as sometimes happens on election day). There’s also added security. You might get ill on election day and not be able to vote. You might have an extremely busy work day. If you vote in advance, you can vote on the day that is most convenient for you. 

Can I change my mind after I’ve voted? 

Yes. You can change your mind right up to the point that ballot boxes close on election day. If you decide that you want to vote for a different party, all you need to do is turn up at the polling station where you are registered with your voting card and vote a second time for the party you now want to vote for. 

Your new vote will then be registered as your vote, and the old vote will be cancelled. This is because your voting card has a unique number (which is different from your personal number to keep each vote anonymous), and each unique voting card number can only have one vote connected to it. 

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For members


Sweden Elects: New finance minister under fire after first long interview

In our weekly Sweden Elects newsletter, The Local's editor Emma Löfgren explains the key events to keep an eye on in Swedish politics this week.

Sweden Elects: New finance minister under fire after first long interview


Elisabeth Svantesson has given her first long interview as finance minister, speaking to the Svenska Dagbladet daily just days after she presented her first budget on behalf of Sweden’s new, right-wing government.

The government has already faced accusations of deprioritising the climate crisis, and Svantesson conceded in the interview that its planned investment in nuclear power (which is a low-emission source of energy, but takes time to develop, so it pays off only in the long run) would also make it difficult to reach Sweden’s climate targets within the next decade.

Asked what will happen if Sweden does not meet its Agenda 2030 target, the sustainable development targets agreed by the United Nations, by that year, she said: “It would mean that we don’t meet the targets. If we don’t we don’t, but our ambition is to steer towards that goal.”

That quote, which was perceived as far more laissez-faire than the situation warrants, was met with criticism from the opposition.

“I’m astounded at how you sign agreements and vote for legislation in parliament only to ignore it when you feel like it,” said Green Party leader Per Bolund.

The Social Democrats’ former finance minister Mikael Damberg gave a diplomatic-or-patronising answer (a school of conflict avoidance that can be perfected only by a party that’s more used to being in power than not being in power) and guessed that Svantesson had perhaps not meant it like that. “Svantesson has had a lot to do this week, maybe she’s tired.”

Speaking of interviews, one Swedish newsroom has not yet been getting them, at least not with senior ministers. One of public broadcaster SVT’s top political interviewers, Anders Holmberg, points out that all four right-wing party leaders and several ministers have declined to appear on his “30 minuter”, a show famous for putting hard-hitting questions to politicians and senior decision-makers. It’s of course not mandatory to say yes to all interviews even as a politician, but it’s an unusual move.

It’s interesting that Bolund tried to attack Svantesson specifically on not following through on commitments. This has been a recurring piece of criticism since the new government was elected two months ago.

The budget was more conservative (in this particular case I mean conservative as in cautious rather than as in right-wing) than you might have expected based on the government’s election pledges, and it’s not the only campaign promise that they’ve been forced to backtrack on.

“The central thing is that they’re breaking most of their major election promises at the same time as as they’re not really managing to take care of the big social problems Sweden faces today,” Damberg told SVT.

To be fair, you would kind of expect him to say this (when has a political opposition party ever praised the government’s budget?), but significantly, the criticism hasn’t only come from the left-wing opposition.

Moderate Party politicians in the powerful Skåne region earlier this month slammed their party for failing to deliver the promised support to those suffering sky high power bills in the southern Swedish county.

“There are effectively no reforms, and they’re not putting in place the policies they campaigned for in the election,” the head of the liberal think tank Timbro told the Aftonbladet newspaper about the budget.

It will be interesting to see whether the label as “promise breakers” sticks, and whether that will affect the right-wing parties in the next election.

Did you know?

Parties make more and more pledges during election campaigns. Ahead of the 2014 election, a whopping 1,848 vallöften (election promises) were made, according to research by Gothenburg University, up from 326 in 1994.

You may not believe this, because the stereotypical image of the dishonest politician perhaps unfairly endures, but research shows that most politicians keep most of their election promises most of the time.

Swedish parties in a single-party government and coalition governments with a joint manifesto tend to deliver on between 80 and 90 percent of their vallöften, according to political scientist Elin Naurin. For coalition governments without a joint manifesto, it ranges from 50 to 70 percent.

In other news

the deputy mayor of the town of Norrtälje, who got 15 seconds – technically 26 seconds – of fame after he was left speechless when a reporter asked him to defend hefty pay rises for top councillors has resigned, saying he wants to take responsibility for what happened.

He also told SVT about his long and very awkward silence on camera that his brain had simply blacked out after having worked for 13 hours straight and gone nine hours without food in the post-election frenzy.

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