Finnish sneak peek: elections

19 March is the Minna Canth Day, also known as Equality Day. In 1906, Finland was the fist country to provide full universal suffrage - women were given not only the right to vote but also the right to stand as candidates.

The latest Finnish election was conducted in last January in order to elect the president for Finland for the upcoming 6 years. The voting percentage of Finnish citizens living in Finland was 69.9 % and 13.3 % of Finnish citizens living abroad. The majority of the citizens have voted in this presidential or in some earlier election but not so many know what happens from the election official's perspective.

Below you can sneak a look to discover what happens behind the scenes.

17 Nov 2017, at 18.50
"Ping!" says my iPhone, signalling a newly received email.

The message is from Mr Antti Niemelä, Deputy Head of Mission at the Embassy of Finland in Canberra. That's the place where I will start my three month internship. The message says that as a part of my internship I will be an election official during the presidential election in January.
"Yay!" I think. I have studied law for the past four years and I'm about to graduate this summer. This will be an excellent opportunity to see the studied theory in practice.

Monday 8 Jan 2018, at 9 o'clock
I have just arrived at the Embassy and we start the week with a 9am morning coffee. The presidential election buzz is in the air.

There are many little things that need to be done in advance: website and social media updates about the voting, informing customers about the changed customer service hours (everyone is travelling around Australia so there's pretty much no one who could take care of the consular services), social media posts related to the service hours, hotel bookings. In addition, most of these are not only in English but also in Finnish and Swedish as well.

"Jävligt kul!" pops up in my head as I haven't had opportunity to speak - or write in this case - Swedish in ages.

All of that plus the main tasks that everyone has.

Thursday 11 Jan, at 2 o'clock
We have a meeting about being an election official. An election official is a position which is regulated in accordance with the Election Act. Our Head of Votes carries out an informative and compact training about how to act as an election official at the polling station.

"It'll be easy." she says and hands over a summary of the voting process.

Adelaide was beautiful.
Tuesday 16 Jan, evening
While messaging with Antti during last fall I was informed that I will go to the polling station in Adelaide. Adelaide is a city of over 1.3 million people and is the capital of the state of South Australia.
Here I am now!

"And here I am now." I think.

"Don't mess up the election!" were Antti's last words to me, seasoned with a hint of laughter, as I left the office and headed to Canberra's airport.

The airport of Canberra was probably the smallest I've ever been in. However, the chai latte which I had there was good.

I go through the election instructions once more in my bed.

Wednesday 17 Jan, at 8.56
I arrive to the polling stations which is at the Finnish Honorary Consulate in Adelaide. Never have I ever experienced 35 degree heat at 9 am.

Our Honorary Consul is a marvelously kind man and offers me a proper cup of coffee - he definitely knows the way to a Finn's heart!

Wednesday 17 Jan, 10.00
We're all set up and the advance voting starts.

Wednesday 17 Jan, 10.17
The first voters arrive. A nice Finnish couple. A young male voter comes few minutes after.

The voter must sign a declaration on the covering letter stating that he or she him/herself has, maintaining the secrecy of the ballot, filled in the ballot and enclosed it stamped in the ballot envelope. (Election Act, section 59, subsection 3)

Collect the polling card or filled covering letter. IDs - especially check the age. Give them the ballot. The voter goes to the voting area to mark the number of the candidate he/she wishes to vote for. Stamp the ballot. The voter encloses his/her ballot in the ballot envelope. Fill in the form of the list of voters.  I sign the polling card or the filled covering letter and then the voter signs it. Enclose the envelope with the ballot paper and the covering letter in the covering envelope. All done.

Wednesday 17 Jan, 18.00
Advance voting ends for today. Time to go to the hotel.

Stamps, votes, envelopes, covering letters, I quietly repeat in my head. The most important things which I truly have to remember to take with me.

Wednesday 17 Jan, 21.03
1, 2, 3... I counted the votes to be certain that I have all of them with me. Just to make sure.

Thursday 18 Jan, 8.50
All set up for this morning - signs, the voting area etc. I wonder whether it is going to be a busy day or not; three hours is quite a short period of time.

I walked from the hotel to the polling station - good exercise!
Thursday 18 Jan, 12.01
Twenty four. Twenty four is the grand total of given votes in Adelaide.

Oh. I feel a bit surprised, not yet knowing whether I was expecting more or less.

I pack up everything I have with me and go get some lunch before I head to the Adelaide airport. I don't let my backpack filled with the votes out of my sight. Every time somebody approaches the luggage shelf I keep an eye on him/her.

I arrive back home at almost 9pm and then I get everything ready for tomorrow.

...23, 24. I count the votes just before I go to sleep. Just to make sure.

Friday 19 Jan, 8.55
I arrive at the Embassy. However, the day is not like the others. Most of the other election officials are still on their journey.

I hand over the votes to our Head of Votes.

Okay, now we just wait.

The advance voting abroad ends eight days before the actual election day in Finland. On the evening of the election day we will know the result. As the election day is on 28 January, there will be a rush if the second voting period is to be organised. Why? Because due to the time difference, we will know the result on early Monday morning here in Australia and if the second voting is to occur, we only have one or two days before departing to the polling station cities. Plus, it would cost lot more money for the state of Finland (flights, accommodation, etc).

Monday 29 Jan, 6.32
My alarm just rang but I've been waking up every now and then throughout the whole night.

Niinistö is likely to win the election - Haavisto has already congratulated Niinistö, says the headlines of Finnish newspapers.

A few hours later the result is confirmed. Congratulations to the President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö, six more years!

After our morning meeting at the Embassy, everybody goes to cancel the flights which we had to book, just in case. The election buzz has finally come to its end.

The writer is an intern at the Embassy of Finland in the early 2018.


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