The September 2022 deployment was the second deployment of Democracy Volunteers observers to Sweden. Our experience of observing in the country has led us to assess the impact of the new procedure for the collection of ballot papers from a new securer area than previously, and also the impact this change might have on the voter experience of the polling day procedure.
Democracy Volunteers deployed 26 observers across Sweden in these elections, 5 of whom were in Sweden for over a week and the others for the period immediately around election day. As a member of the Global Network of Domestic Election Monitors (GNDEM), Democracy Volunteers has an agreed code of conduct for observers. All observers are trained and briefed before deployment on polling day, and they sign the organisation’s code of conduct before observing. Our observer teams observe in teams of two, completing an online form once they have made their observations in each polling station.
In total, the team observed 278 polling stations across several municipalities and were generally impressed with the conduct of the polls.
Although the election was well-organised and well-resourced, our team was concerned with the amount of time voters in some municipalities spent queuing inside and outside of polling stations, in part due to the new two-stage process for collecting and then casting ballot papers. This did at times lead to significant bottlenecks occurring, delaying voters and worsening their voting experience. Although our team did not see any voters choose not to vote due to these delays, this is a possibility that should be ameliorated for.
The team also recommends that an official accreditation pathway is implemented for domestic and international observers, and that ballot box security should be improved. As a signatory to the OSCE Copenhagen Document (1990), Sweden has agreed that the presence of election observers, such as Democracy Volunteers, can act as a benefit for democracy, and as such, the lack of legislation around the rights and accreditation of observers can be improved.
There are three areas of concern that the observer team would highlight.
Accreditation of Observers
In Sweden, there is no formal accreditation process for independent, non-partisan election observers, both international and domestic. As such, no checks are performed on those given access to polling stations, which are classified as public space, and no formal accreditation is given to observers.
Whilst this lack of accreditation did not lead to attempts to prevent our observers throughout polling day, a lack of official accreditation system could lead to confusion for election staff, a lack of certainty around who is observing a given election, and the inclusion of so-called shadow observer groups in the observation process.
R1: The Swedish Government and Election Authority, following consultation with Democracy Volunteers, the OSCE/ODIHR, and other interested election observation groups, should bring forward legislation to provide for election observation in Sweden and produce an open and transparent process of accreditation.
Ballot Box Security
As Democracy Volunteers often observes, ballot boxes were sealed using different methodologies across the areas observed. Although some ballot boxes were secured with numbered cable ties, whose security can be scrutinised before they are open for counting, many boxes were sealed with security tape, or on some occasions, regular sticky tape. These could, in theory, be tampered with, and whilst no observer team witnessed evidence of this, we would suggest that ensuring that ballot boxes are demonstrably not tampered with is preferable to the potential belief they are not. As such we recommend:
R2: Ballot boxes should be clearly sealed at the beginning of polling and the seal should be coded (either cable ties or padlocks) to ensure they are unique and are able to be checked by independent witnesses.
Collection and Casting of Ballot Papers
For the first time at these elections, the procedure for casting a vote inside a polling station was changed to a two-stage process. Firstly, voters were directed to a private booth to select the ballot papers of the parties they wished to vote for, before collecting an official envelope and showing their ID. Then voters were directed to a polling booth, where they would insert the ballot papers of the party or parties they wished to vote for. This differs from previous elections, as the collection of a voters desired ballot paper is now done in secret.
However, our observers noted that many voters would only collect one ballot paper per election to take to the polling booth, and that due to the identifying features of individual ballot papers, this made it possible to identify how the voter would cast their vote. This was often done inadvertently, but in some cases, the ballot papers selected were visible to other voters, harming the secrecy of the ballot.
Furthermore, the new two-stage process led to long queues forming at some polling stations throughout the day. This problem was particularly evident at locations with multiple polling stations in the same building. In these situations, bottlenecks formed at the first stage of collecting ballot papers, as there was often only one selection area for multiple polling stations. This led to voter confusion and unnecessary delays.
During Democracy Volunteers observations, our teams have previously observed countries elections where the same electoral system is in use that avoids this problem. In Norway, for example, the two-stage process is condensed into one, by voters collecting their desired ballot paper inside the polling booth itself. Thus, it is far more difficult for other voters to see who a voter will cast their ballot for and prevents bottlenecks forming. Similarly, in Finland, the same electoral system is apparent, yet voters select the number of their candidate from large display boards, and then simply write this number into a generic ballot paper (See Figure 3).
R3: The new two-stage process should be condensed so that voters select and cast their voters inside the polling booth at the same time.
All 26 observers deployed to observe the elections did so at their own cost or were supported from the general funds of the organisation. No finance was sought, or received, from any party or organisation, whether internal or external to Sweden, for the observation or this final report. Our observations are wholly independent of any institution.
For more information and to hear John Ault, Harry Busz and Scottish parliamentarian, Willie Rennie MSP talk about the observation you can listen to The Election Observer Podcast.