Uncertain voters could be encouraged to go to the ballot box by changing voting schedules, says election expert, research manager Sami Borg From the Municipal Development Foundation.
According to him, the current system, where there are four intervening days between the early voting week and the actual election day, can be passivating for some voter groups. For example, in this presidential election, about two-thirds of all votes were cast in advance. When this is combined with the abundant publication of opinion polls in the week leading up to the election, it can be difficult for undecided voters to be motivated to go to the polls on election day, when the majority of votes have already been cast and the final result may seem clearer than it is.
“Among the people who are unsure of their position, there are many who go to vote on the actual election day. The current arrangement especially favors those who are sure of their position, are interested in politics and who will definitely go to vote in any case,” says Borg.
The popularity of early voting has grown steadily in the last elections. In the 2011 and 2012 parliamentary elections, municipal elections and presidential elections, 42–49 percent of the votes were cast in advance. In the most recent elections, the shares have risen to 56–63 percent.
Borg also estimates that the intervening days contribute to slowing down the election frenzy, when most of the votes have already been cast before the last TV exams of the election week and other appearances of the candidates.
“I have been of the opinion for a long time that it would be good in Finland to switch to such an arrangement where you could go to vote during the last week of the election campaign (until the actual election day), and clearly there would be a couple of early voting days before that. But I know that there are electoral technical problems with this,” says Borg.
He is especially worried about the summer European elections and next year’s spring municipal and regional elections. These elections have traditionally been the ones where voting activity has remained the lowest. The right to vote is easily missed by young people in particular.
“Young people are late decision-makers, which is quite natural when they often don’t have such an established party position. Young people should be activated even more to exercise their right to vote,” says Borg.
Ministry of Justice election director Arto Jääskeläinen says that the current intervening days are needed for the processing of advance votes, so that they can be placed in the right places and that up-to-date electoral lists can be made in time for election day. According to him, if the early voting ended just before the election day, the price would be that the relatively certain election result would not be finalized on the evening of the election day, because votes could still arrive after the election day.
“This would be a big change to our system. Now everyone knows that when the voting on the election day ends at 8 p.m., after that there are no more votes to be counted, but all the votes have been cast,” he says.
One option would also be to limit early voting, for example, only within one’s own municipality, but Jääskeläinen does not think that anyone would be ready for this.
Jääskeläinen welcomes the discussion of different options, but considers the current arrangement to be good in many ways.
“Now there were almost two million preliminary votes (per election round), and despite the tight schedule, all the votes were received and even counted in the planned schedule.”