Swedish voting procedure – An illusion of secrecy

Sweden has a population of just under 10 million and 7.49 million were registered to vote in the general election last Sunday. There were 6005 polling stations so each polling station would deal, on average, with less than 1300 voters. As a comparison, an Indian General Election has 814 million voters and 930,000 polling stations giving an average of less than 900 voters per polling station.

On average a Swedish polling station has 50% more voters than an average Indian polling station. Yet the Swedish voting procedure is almost entirely manual with very little use of electronic devices. Surprisingly, it is also prone to human error in the recording of who has voted.

The voting process has five key steps.

  1. Select a ballot paper from the party of your choice (NOT IN SECRET)
  2. Mark your preference for a particular person on the party list. (IN SECRET).
  3. Put your ballot paper in an envelope. (IN SECRET).
  4. Identify yourself to polling official who crosses you off the electoral list and
  5. places your envelope in the ballot box (NOT IN SECRET).

The voters choice of party is made in Step 1 but there is no pretense of secrecy around this step. The secrecy surrounding Step 3 adds no value. In Step 4 there is no cross check that the name being crossed of the electoral roll is actually the person who has voted.

Considering the voting process as a whole, it is remarkably old-fashioned but steps 1 and 4 are not fit for purpose for even an old-fashioned process.


This year the Swedish election has had international observers. I would be surprised if they did not comment on Steps 1 and 4.



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3 Responses to “Swedish voting procedure – An illusion of secrecy”

  1. Helen Strand Says:

    My experience was not the same as yours. In step 1, I choose my ballet papers behind a screen. Previously, when there has been no secrecy in this stage, I take one paper for each party. I then place my ballot, for my party of choice into the envelopes (in the secrecy of the voting booth). I’m not a Swedish citizen so I only vote at the County and Municipality levels = 2 envelopes. I close and seal my envelopes.

    I then have to show identification and my electoral card (sent to me by post) when I take my envelopes to be posted. My name, according to my driving licence and electoral card, is crossed off the electoral list. Perhaps not the most advanced method of verifying my identity, but my name can only be used to register one vote.

    A second person posts the envelopes in correct boxes (surely all the envelopes could go in the same box and be sorted and counted electronically?)

    A third person oversees the whole thing, which is just as well, because my envelopes almost got posted into the wrong boxes.

    I can dispose of the unused ballots at the polling station or later, if I’m worried about privacy.

    I have to agree that it’s an unnecessarily laborious process that is in no way scalable. Perhaps even by the next election the process will need to be reconsidered due to a slightly larger voting population. My husband voted in the morning and had to queue for 50 minutes. I voted later in the day when there was almost no queue.

    The whole thing reminds me of the rigmarole at Max to just order a burger.

    • ktwop Says:

      The polling stations probably vary somewhat.
      Where we voted the ballot papers were all laid out on an open table and it was perfectly possible for anybody – if they were interested – to see which party’s papers I picked.
      Nobody checked the one person who checked my ID and crossed out my name from the electoral list. I am sure she made no mistake, but there was no check on the correctness of her crossing out. There was a case yesterday of someone not being allowed to vote because his name had already been crossed out by mistake.
      It would have been far easier to have scanned my ID (as in the post office for example).

  2. peter van der veldt Says:

    Just the fact that you can see what ballot papers have been more or less selected is already an unwanted influence of the voter.

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