The mission deployed 25 observers from 12 different countries in teams of two. They made 240 separate observations in 149 polling stations across Stockholm, Vasteras, Uppsala, Malmo and Gothenburg. The deployment of observers broke down as follows:
Stockholm – 110 ballot boxes (46%)
Gothenburg – 42 ballot boxes (17%)
Malmo – 60 ballot boxes (25%)
Uppsala – 17 ballot boxes (7%)
Vasteras – 12 ballot boxes (5%)
Observers deployed were from Austria, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Lithuania, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
Each observation was conducted in pairs to allow for objective observation and the observers then agreed their opinions of the electoral process before submitting data to the central team. The survey was conducted online so data was collected, and could be checked, live.
The observations generally took between thirty and forty-five minutes per polling station as the observers were asked to ensure that they attempted to see the entire process, which included staff greeting electors on arrival at the polling station through the voting process until voters exited the polling station.
The organisation of polling stations was generally well run across the area of observation, voters could clearly see how to access voting and staff were trained to manage the process. The polling stations were well resourced in terms of staff and this is one strength of the Swedish election system.
Polls were open from 8am to 8pm and the teams were asked to observe an opening as well as a closing of a polling station and visiting polling stations throughout the day. Counting began almost immediately, based in the polling stations before results were transmitted to the central count for checking the following week.
Our observer team and electoral experts met with a number of professional and political interlocutors whilst in Stockholm and we have also included some of the feedback on these meetings in our conclusions.
Our observer team and electoral experts met with a number of professional and political interlocutors whilst in Stockholm and we have also included some of the feedback on these meetings in our conclusions. Three particular aspects of the voting procedure became apparent to the observer group as they met electoral officials, and other interested parties, in the days preceding polling day and also on polling day itself.
• The sealing of ballot boxes
• The secrecy of the ballot papers
• Family voting
1. Sealing of the Ballot Boxes
Our observer team was surprised that it was not routine to seal ballot boxes (in over of a half of the observations according to question 6). Official guidance is that ballot boxes should be sealed. Individual presiding officers had various reasons why ballot boxes should be unsealed and others sealed them. If nothing else there is a lack of clarity as to whether ballot boxes should be sealed and this guidance should be explained to polling staff, voters and observers alike.
Although there was no suggestion of malpractice or interference with the ballot boxes the observer team felt that normalising this aspect of the voting procedure would build greater confidence in the security of the ballot in Sweden. While high level of trust takes years to build up it can be damaged overnight, accordingly sealing is one measure to help it endure.
2. Secrecy of the ballot papers
The ballot papers are financed and issued by the various political parties.
The way that ballot papers are acquired in Sweden needs some explanation for those unaware of the system. Ballots for candidates and parties are stacked in boxes for voters to collect before entering the polling booth to complete, then insert into an envelope before presenting it to the polling staff and having it deposited in the ballot box by polling staff.
Voters are allowed to take as many, or as few, ballot papers as they want before completion. This allows them to choose in the polling booth – however the team observed that many voters in reality, do not do this.
In one case in Uppsala, an unidentified person was observed standing by the box of the ballot papers for the 45 minutes of the observation by our team. In that case, most voters picked several ballots to take them to the booth.
As well as this concern, on several occasions, one particular party appeared in its own box separate from the other parties. This made it even more apparent that voters had a specific choice of voting intention that would clearly apparent to any third party in the polling station.
In some polling stations some minority parties had no ballot papers in evidence at all, despite having candidates contesting the election locally. This was ascribed to them having not delivered any.
Most parties interviewed expressed concerns about the secrecy of the vote (Liberals, Alternative for Sweden, Sweden Democrats or Left Party).
3. Family Voting
So-called ‘family voting’, where two, or more voters, enter a polling booth to cast their ballots together, or to discuss their voting preference, seems to be an accepted practice in Sweden.
This was observed in 44% of all the polling stations visited and of all the voters observed, some 4251, this affected 25% of all voters according to the results of question 8. One some occasions this was discouraged by elections staff, but invariably it was not contested.
This practice was especially observed in a large proportion of polling stations in Gothenburg where observers reported seeing numerous (the maximum being 35 occasions) instances of family voting that went unchecked and seemed normalised. One observer team reported;
‘a couple pulled up chairs in the lobby of the school and sat down with their ballots to chat about which party they would vote for. They did this 1.5 metres in front of the polling staff’ – no action was taken.’
One other team in Vasteras reported;
‘First case: elderly couple with man in wheelchair. Wife pushed him to booth and then went to table for papers. She picked her husband’s too, only giving him one party’s papers. They then stood in the same booth. Staff saw but did nothing. Second case: old man with walker could not easily access table with ballots. Wife passed him 1 set of ballot papers. Voted in separate booths. Wife went behind booth to check on him. Third case: a girl walked over to her (apparent) boyfriend in another booth and showed him her ballot papers over the top of the screen.’
Another team reported;
‘Two cases: Case One: – two parents attended the station with their son (who took only the Moderate party ballot). The father goes over to the son’s booth, who then leaves the booth and takes the Sweden Democrats ballot instead. Staff noticed Family Voting and he moved away but his son’s mind seemed already to have changed. In Case Two: ‘two young women went to the same booth but staff noticed and separated them.’
Staff should be aware that family voting should not take place and to intervene even in the case polling stations are busy and it is quicker and simpler for voters to vote together to speed up the process. Family voting would seem to be an accepted voter practice in parts of Sweden even if it is illegal and not in line with Sweden’s international commitments. There was much less evidence of family voting in Stockholm.
A number of organisations and individuals we met felt that the legal ambiguity of the role of observers, whether domestic or foreign, should be enacted into legislation. Sweden has one of the most open election systems. The requirements of the Copenhagen Declaration, however, requires that the role, rights and responsibilities are provided by legislation. This complies with the legal principle of legal certainty, known as ‘Rättssäkerhet’ in the Swedish language.
Whilst the responsibility for securing and developing elections in Sweden rests with the electoral and legislative authorities within Sweden we feel it appropriate to make some helpful suggestions and recommendations to the authorities to further improve the electoral process in Sweden. We feel these suggestions should be considered to limit and counteract any suggestions of electoral malpractice, whether internally or externally to Sweden.
Ballot Box Security
According to the official guidance for the Swedish electoral authorities’ boxes should be sealed, we are therefore in front of a problem of implementation of this guidance:
R1. National election authorities should make it clear to local election authorities what their guidance is concerning the sealing of ballot boxes.
R2. This recommendation should be made clear to polling staff, during their pre-election briefings, and in polling stations to build confidence in the integrity of the voting process.
R3. The sealing of the ballot box should be done in public, with a witness, at the opening of the poll, and an appropriate methodology should be found to build trust in this process.
Secrecy of the ballot papers
Ballot papers are in most cases on public display in polling stations to allow voters to select those, or one, they wish to vote for. This is done in plain view and thus allows the secrecy of the ballot to be compromised against the national legislation that ask to guarantee the secrecy of the vote and to place the ballot papers in a hidden place.
R4. – To place the ballots inside polling booths allowing voters to select their ballot in the privacy of the polling booth.
This is a practice already in use in other countries like Norway as we observed during the election observed there in 2017.
R5. Family voting should be acted upon in Sweden. This could be dealt with by the deployment of extra staff in polling stations to deal with this, but it could be ameliorated if Sweden adopted polling booths fitted with curtains and staff monitor closely the ingress and egress of voters to polling booth as part of their duties.
R6. We encourage the Swedish authorities to enact the rights and responsibilities of election observers in Sweden in line with international commitments.
Other Issues Observed or through meetings with Interlocutors
R7. Early voting: we recommend that election authorities could limit this as several voters were unable to change their vote despite this being legislated for.
R.8. Party impersonation is a concern where literature, or advertising, can be used to mislead voters as to another party’s campaigns leading to so-called fake news. This should be an area assessed by the electoral authorities in Sweden.
R.9. Checking the proportionate nature of media coverage for smaller parties should be assessed by media outlets to ensure fairness.
All of the 25 observers deployed to Sweden for the observation of the 9th September parliamentary elections did so at their own cost. This was arranged by Democracy Volunteers, and this covered their travel to Sweden, accommodation and internal transport. No finance was sought, or received, from any party, whether internal or external to Sweden, for the observation, writing of the Preliminary Statement or this Final Report. Our observations are wholly independent of any institution.
The full report can be downloaded below.