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Sep 18 2006

Civic duty, Swedish-style

I voted in Sweden’s national election yesterday. As a fairly new Swedish citizen, this was the first time I was eligible to do so, and let’s just say it was "educational."

First off, unlike my homeland (which technically has a two-party system of government but in reality has operated more like a single-party dictatorship in recent years), Sweden has at least seven different political parties vying for your vote in three separate elections. For simpicity’s sake let’s call them national, regional and local. And if you think seven sounds like a lot, the number of viable parties actually increases at the regional and local levels.

The major parties actually send their ballots to you in the mail in advance of the election even though you can get them at the polls. I initially thought this was a monumental waste of paper until I got to our polling place and realized that I had to select my ballots in a lobby full of other voters, thereby revealing my party leanings. In an effort to maintain at least some semblance of confidentiality to my vote, I picked up ballots from three different parties (which means 9 separate pieces of paper) and took them into the voting booth with me, thus wasting even MORE paper.

Before I go any further, I should clarify that the "voting booth" was nothing more than a small, standing-height table with a fabric screen on two sides. And in my polling place at least, these tables were set up in such a way so that I had a clear view of Dr. Darling while she voted.

Now here’s the really weird part…voting for an individual candidate at this point in the process is completely optional. You only get to choose one from the dozen or so on the ballot, and it’s pretty much impossible to learn enough about all of them to make an informed decision…especially if Swedish is not your native language. Even Dr. Darling, who watched every televised debate and read countless articles about the candidates and their positions, declined to vote for a specific person and instead left it to the party leadership to decide. And from what I was able to observe (which was a hell of a lot more than I’ve ever been able to see at a U.S. polling station), lots of folks were not bothering to choose a specific candidate.

So what does one actually do in the not-altogether-private voting booth, you ask?  Well, you put your publicly selected ballots in designated envelopes! And then you walk over to another table where an election official looks at your ID, checks you off the voter list and puts your envelopes in the correct ballot boxes.

Am I the only one who thinks they have it backwards?  Clearly the act of voting is not considered an especially confidential procedure here…because if it were, folks would select their ballots in the relative privacy of the "voting booth" and then put them in the envelopes out in the lobby with everybody else.

Or maybe I just need to bring the ones I get in the mail.

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