It’s easy to vote in Sweden — at least when you’re a Swedish citizen. Christine Demsteader recalls her attempt to become a Swedish citizen in time to cast her vote.
The color coding of the ballot papers make it easier for first-time voters to get it right. Photo: Christine Demsteader
August 10, 2010: The citizenship application
On arriving back home from summer holidays abroad I didn’t scramble to unpack my suitcase. Nor did I rush to upload the usual round of beach photos to share online.
My first priority was to send off my passport along with an application to become a Swedish citizen.
After living in Stockholm for eight years, I’d put it off for long enough. Sweden is my home and, with the 2010 general election looming, I thought it was about time to become an upstanding citizen and partake in the democratic process.
August 23, 2010: I’m Swedish!
Yes, it’s official. My letter from the Swedish Migration Board arrived complete with a certificate to prove my citizenship. The process cost me a two-week wait and the sum of SEK 1,500 (around USD 200).
The advance warning states it can take up to 10 months. But the fact that I was already an EU citizen, living with my Swedish partner no doubt sped things up — but was it quick enough?
Alarm bells started ringing when I set out to educate myself on the country’s electoral system. My goal is to be an informed voter. I’m a journalist, not a political expert. But I should know these things. I am Swedish now, after all.
August 30, 2010: How does the voting system work?
The Swedish Election Authority (Valmyndigheten) is my first port of call, to find out how the voting system works. They are responsible for informing the general public about when, where and how to cast a vote.
It’s an impressive start for new Swedish citizens whose native language skills are not quite up to scratch. Their website, packed with useful information, is available in a condensed English version. You can watch a film explaining how to vote, and fact sheets can be downloaded in 25 different languages.
Christine about to tear open her Swedish voting card. Photo: Christine Demsteader
I can’t resist putting in a congratulatory call to them. The Election Authority’s Kristina Lemon says: “Our job is to reach eligible voters and groups who can’t get information through general channels, as well as those using the electoral system for the first time.”
But I also questioned the seemingly complicated voting structure I’d read about. In Sweden you can choose from three different types of ballot papers rather than simply putting one tick in a box.
“Different countries have different traditions and most people do not find our system difficult at all,” Lemon says.
“It provides you with a possibility to vote for a particular party but also the opportunity to cast a personal vote with a named ballot paper. Then there’s the possibility to use a blank ballot paper and write the party's name on it if you don’t find your chosen party's ballot paper.”
Then came the bad news. I may have missed my chance to vote. My citizenship has to be registered 30 days before the date of the election. It’s going to be a close call.
August 30, 2010: Judgement day — the voting card arrives
My voting card arrived in the post. I tear open its perforated edge with great anticipation followed by immediate disappointment. I didn’t make the cut and my citizenship wasn’t accepted in time.
However, I can still exercise a right to make my voice heard on September 19. I can’t vote in parliamentary elections (Riksdag) but am eligible to vote in the county council (landsting) and municipal elections (kommun) that take place in parallel, every four years.
Still, my distress does not go unnoticed and I am invited to drown my sorrows over a cup of coffee with Juan Navas, friend, former journalist and first-time voter.
As a new Swede Juan Navas is happy to get the chance to vote. Photo: Christine Demsteader
The former US–German citizen became US–Swedish in 2007. “Anyone who makes any decision to be a citizen wants to become an active citizen,” he says. “You want to contribute, be part of society and influence your surroundings through participating in the election.”
Navas has lived in Sweden for 13 years and is a fluent Swedish speaker. Yet, he insists you don’t have to be kept in the dark if you don’t speak Swedish. I intend to do my political homework over the next few days.
September 2, 2010: Learning about Swedish politics
Indeed, he’s right. The websites of the seven Swedish parties now in parliament have extensive information in a double-digit number of languages.
What’s needed is some perspective and objectivity — but English speakers in Sweden have the added benefit of a variety of news sources. Firstly, SR International, Radio Sweden’s English news service, has an impressive array of interviews with party leaders on their website. The Local, an independent site covering Sweden’s news in English, has lively discussion forums and will be live blogging on election night.
And then, of course, there is a lot of information on Swedish politics and society here on Sweden.se, Sweden’s official website. At last, it seems I’m ready to vote.
September 5, 2010: To the (advance) polls
Advance voting began on September 1 and I choose to avoid the expected rush on September 19. It’s a popular decision; according to the Election Authority, 32 percent of Swedes who voted in 2006 did so before election day.
Why not take a break from your shopping and go to the polls? Photo: Christine Demsteader
I avoid the traditional type of polling station — the conventional school hall or public library — and opt for a modern Swedish alternative. I’ve found a polling station in the middle of a Stockholm mall and vote in between lunch and a shopping trip to H&M. (You can also vote at the Stockholm City Museum and the Central Station.)
It’s a quick and simple process. The ballot papers are different colors — yellow for parliament, blue for county council and white for municipality. Yellow has never been my color anyway, so I take the blue and white ballots I’m eligible for and wait my turn. There’s a small queue for the curtained cubicle, which looks like a makeshift confessional.
Now, I’m not going to confess which way I voted. And in Sweden it’s not deemed very polite to ask a native their political persuasion. But like the majority of the Swedes, I’ll be keeping a close eye on the polls until election day is over. Remember, I am Swedish now. And by the next election in 2014, I will be the expert on how to vote in Sweden.
On the day of the general election 2010, Christine Demsteader will have been a Swedish citizen for 28 days. She is still slightly bitter, however, that she will have to wait another four years until she votes for the first time in a Swedish parliamentary election.
The author alone is responsible for the opinions expressed in this article.
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