The mission deployed in two waves: a core team for up to ten days and the rest of the shortterm observers for the weekend of the election. The mission deployed 12 observers in total which divided into six teams of two on polling day. These observers were all accredited with the Finnish Ministry of Justice and allowed to access any polling station in Finland. The core team attended a series of meetings with interlocutors across Finland to evaluate aspects of the election with specific reference to the competencies of the core team. On polling day, the observer team made 65 separate observations across seven municipalities. This allowed the observer team to also assess five separate electoral districts: Helsinki, Uusimaa, Tavastia, Pirkanmaa, and Oulu. The municipalities and the number of observations were:
- Espoo 10
- Helsinki 16
- Kerava 2
- Lahti 4
- Oulu 12
- Tampere 11
- Vantaa 10
All observers received written notice in advance of the deployment. The core team held a preliminary meeting with the Ministry of Justice on arrival in Finland and the entire team of twelve held a subsequent meeting at the Ministry. This was followed by a briefing in Helsinki.
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. The observations generally took between thirty and forty-five minutes per polling station, with the observers asked to ensure that they saw the entire process, which included staff greeting electors on arrival at the polling station. This happened on every occasion.
The organisation of polling stations was extremely well run across the area of observation. Voters could clearly see how to access voting and staff were trained to manage the process. Polls were generally open from 9am to 8pm. The teams were asked to observe an opening as well as a closing of a polling station and tour polling stations throughout the day.
Counting began almost immediately, based in the polling stations, before results were transmitted to the central count for checking. Our observer team and electoral experts met with a number of professional and political interlocutors whilst in Finland and we have also included some of the feedback on these meetings in our conclusions
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
There are five areas that the observer team felt that the Finnish authorities should consider further action following the observation on 14th April. They were:
- Accessibility to Polling in Finland
- Local Voting on polling day
- Postal Voting Adjudication
- Increasing Workloads for Elections Staff
- Accessibility to Polling in Finland
Generally, accessibility is good in Finland but the observer groups noticed some disparity in access in some areas. This is dependent on the age and retrofitting of some buildings but did lead to sometimes complex access requirements for some disabled voters. One observer group reported, ‘there was a note on the door with a phone number to call to be allowed through [the] disabled entrance on the far side of the building, this other entrance was not obvious and past a heavy gate.’ This made voting potentially very challenging for some voters, especially if they were unaccompanied.
Nearly all six observer groups identified suboptimal conditions in some polling stations. In some cases, booths specifically designed to afford access to those in wheelchairs were not in place.
R1 All polling stations should have ease of access for disabled voters. These should be prepared by central elections staff before polling day to ensure that they are clear and functional.
Local Voting on polling day
All observer groups reported significant levels of voters who were turned away from voting because they had attended the wrong polling station. This seemed, based on conversations with both staff and voters, to be because advanced voting can be at any polling station but on polling day this must be at the locally designated polling station.
The Helsinki observer team reported, ‘10 were at the wrong polling station and were advised to go to their appropriate polling station.’
R2 The format of the polling card issued to voters should be changed to emphasise where the ordinary poll is located.
Postal Voting Adjudication
As previously stated, ‘many of the mailed forms had errors and doubtful information, making it more time consuming for administrators to process. Some interlocutors felt that it would have helped to have more guidance on how to interpret or adjudicate problematic or doubtful postal voting forms. As a result, many forms had to be forwarded for higher level adjudication. Nevertheless, it was universally agreed that this was, in part, the result of the novelty of the process and all interlocutors expressed confidence that they would have an opportunity to give feedback to their DECs and the Ministry of Justice, so that improvements could be made next time around.’
R3 In future more guidance from the Ministry of Justice be provided to MEC officials with regards to adjudicating or interpreting the postal voting forms.
In many polling stations our observer teams identified some or extensive queuing. In some cases, this resulted in voters standing in line for a considerable length of time. Bottle necks were often seen at busy times in large polling stations. This can be simply remedied if resources allow.
R4 That adding an extra voting booth would speed up the voting process where lines were observed.
Increasing Workloads for Elections Staff
It was clear, based on the core team’s meetings with local election management bodies, that the workload for elections staff has increased over the past few years. This has led to a number being concerned about their capacity to deliver the election as efficiently as they would wish. A number reported stresses to the process especially over the ever-increasing success of Advance Voting in Finland. These votes are all received and counted by officials and their staff and not by those tasked with running polling stations on polling day itself.
It was clear that this concern was apparent given that staff would raise this with the observer team. We therefore recommend;
R5 That the resources available to municipal election administrators keep pace with the increasing workload demands as well as new voting processes and tools, as they require.