Apparent Irregularities in Swedish Early Voting

  • Torsdag 23 Aug 2018 2018-08-23
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The Swedish election on September 9 will be monitored by international observers from the Organization for Safety and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Even before the election in 2010 the issue of international observers was raised, but at that time, it wasn’t considered necessary. After having participated in early voting in Sweden, there are, however, signs that the OSCE has made a correct analysis. The Swedish elections do not adhere to the secrecy and security requirements that are included in the OSCE charter, which Sweden has ratified. 

This year’s election will be monitored by two observers. Among other things, they want to investigate campaign financing, plus the fact that election secrecy, in certain locations, previously has been difficult to guarantee. At some voting locations, the placement of ballots has been too open. 

“The fact that the OSCE has expanded its operations from focusing on new democracies to Sweden now being visited by two election observers should perhaps not be seen as overly dramatic. There are no perfect elections,” says Thomas Rymer, spokesperson for OSCE, to Swedish NPR news.

Election monitoring, however, must be considered a well-measured approach. Sweden was criticized in 2014 for the placement of ballots and the design of polling stations. And it’s a well-known fact that the 2018 elections may  experience interference from extremist groups.

The pro-immigration network #jagärhär was previously planning to be present at polling stations to ”support” voters. Even if one of the key people behind the network, Mina Dennert, has withdrawn this action after being reminded by of the criminal nature of such interference, it cannot be excluded that extraparliamentary groups or sections of various parties, such as youth leagues, may interfere with the election. These actions may lead to re-elections in parts or the whole of the country at the same time as the perpetrators risk long prison terms. 

Yesterday at 4 pm, I was the 320th voter at Norrtälje Public Library. The staff reported that early voting was drawing a big turnout and I wouldn’t be surprised if more than 1,000 people showed up to vote early in the three locations open in the local area. However, I am still not content with the process.

The irregularities were obvious and would most likely have led to criticism from the OSCE based on flawed public election practices. 

  • The ballots were indeed positioned with their ”back” towards the entrance. But there was no screen in front of them, whereby someone could easily see which party’s ballots a voter decided to grab. 
  • The election workers allowed several people to stand next to each other at the same time to pick ballots. My critique of this was met with the statement: “But then you can take ballots for a bunch of parties and throw away the ones not used.”
  • Several people at the polling station recognized me. I waited with entering to pick my ballots until there was nobody behind me. I then noticed that a man, who had just voted, had returned to the premises and stared at me for a long time. We were probably studying each other for ten seconds, preventing me from picking out my ballots. It was only when he realized that I wouldn’t move towards the ballots that he turned around and left. None of the staff reacted. The situation was very unpleasant.
  • Two of the voting booths were turned towards a temporary screen. The screen blocked the space to the library. But it was so low that if I stood on my toes, I could easily have monitored the voting in the next booth. The election workers didn’t react when people tried to squeeze past the screen before the booth had been vacated by the voter.
  • I am getting reports that ballots for certain parties are missing in election locations around the country, and that the ballots in some locations are placed in a way that anyone can grab all the ballots available for a certain party and thus impede the election for a registered party.

Since the election process  is not only regulated in the Elections Act, but also in the Swedish Penal Code 17:8, it is not only the election officials who can report wrongdoing. Anyone is free to file a report with the police, and since these crimes carry prison sentences of more than six months if severe, it is possible for the prosecutor to require that the suspect be jailed during the investigation.

Fact The Swedish Penal Code 17:8

A person who, in an election to public office or in connection with some other exercise of suffrage in public matters, attempts to prevent voting or to tamper with its outcome or otherwise improperly influence the vote, shall be sentenced for improper activity at election to a fine or imprisonment for at most six months.

If the crime is gross, imprisonment for at most four years shall be imposed. In assessing whether the crime is gross, special attention shall be paid to whether it had been committed by use of violence or the threat of violence or had involved misuse of an official position.

A person who receives, accepts a promise of or demands an improper favour for voting in a certain manner or for abstaining from voting on a public matter, shall be sentenced, unless it is a crime of taking a bribe, for accepting an improper reward for voting to a fine or imprisonment for at most six months. If the intervention is judged as severe the imprisonment can be prolonged up to four years. (Law 1977:103)

The Swedish election of 2018 is different from any previous election. The public debate climate in Sweden is anything but healthy, a result of 12 years of stigmatization where the newspaper Aftonbladet, the Left and the environmentalist movement carry a large chunk of the blame. At the core of all this is the critique of the migration policy carried out by three consecutive administrations. Where critique of the current system and the statement that religious and cultural friction will lead to tensions in society have been dismissed as racist. This has, obviously, caused counter-reactions. And counter-counter-reactions, and so on.    

A spiral of condemnations, accusations, pack mentality and in some cases vandalism, hacking, DDOS-attacks against party web sites, threats and threats of violence are setting the scene for this election. 

We also cannot completely rule out that the closer we get to the election day, and perhaps especially on this day, several parties and extraparliamentary organizations will have their own election observers present near or inside the election locations. Also, they probably won’s shy away from reporting or in other ways stop the election procedures if they find what they deem to be irregularities.

Election day is the greatest moment in a democracy. That day should be free from interference.

This year, there’s a major risk of interference in the entire country. In 2014, re-elections were forced to be held in two circuits, Vivalla and Västra Götaland, since the irregularities were severe enough to affect the results of the election. 

I don’t want interference with the greatest moment of democracy, and that’s why I decided on early voting. Only to be distressed by how early voting was organized. To exit the polling station with the sense that the Swedish general elections 2018 already, with more than two weeks left of campaigning, are characterized by widespread uncertainties and apparent irregularities was not something I had longed for. 

Quite the opposite.


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