Finland opens drive-in voting for a Covid-safe election
HELSINKI, May 28, 2021 (BSS/AFP) – Cars are queued up on an old airport runway on the outskirts of the Finnish capital Helsinki — not for coronavirus tests but for drivers to cast their vote.
Outdoor polling stations have sprung up across the Nordic country as authorities try to make voting as socially distanced as possible ahead of the country’s local elections on June 13.
“Signing in and filling out the ballot paper went brilliantly,” retiree Joukko Salminen tells AFP from inside his white car. “And corona safe too!”
Finland’s municipal vote was due to take place in April but was postponed due to the pandemic, after which officials began looking for ways to cast ballots outside during a two-week advance voting period, while protecting the legally protected privacy of voters.
“We’ve built screens that stop people being able to see the voting happening,” polling station manager Vesa Kouvonkorpi tells AFP.
“Because the car is the polling booth, and by law you’re not allowed to see into the polling booth.”
Waiting cars are directed into one of three voting lanes, and the driver hands a polling clerk their voting ID through the window and is given a ballot paper.
The clerk turns their back while the driver casts their vote, puts it into an envelope and returns it.
Finnish law states that a person must be alone when voting so they are not under duress, meaning any passengers inside the vehicle must wait outside.
Although processing the drive-in votes takes about four times as long as the regular process, the outdoor polling station has proven popular and received 500 voters on its first day, Kouvonkorpi says.
A number of people arrive on bikes as well, leaving them in a rack at the entrance to the tent.
The setting, the runway of Helsinki’s now disused Malmi airport, allows for enough space to avoid traffic jams, Kouvonkorpi says, plus it provides for sufficient distancing as people who are in quarantine or isolation also have the right to come and vote.
Residents of Finland will choose from more than 30,000 candidates for offices in over 300 municipalities in the forthcoming elections.
Although the country’s centre-left government has enjoyed relatively high levels of public support over its handling of the pandemic, the centre-right National Coalition party and the far-right Finns Party have seen increased support in opinion polls in the runup to the vote.