Who I’m voting for (and why)

If you’ve been waiting for someone at BCC to post an opinion of the current election, here it is.

I’m voting for candidate #856.

It’s the Helsinki municipal elections, and as a foreign resident who has been here for more than two years, I get to vote, so I’ve been getting my stuff together.

The city of Helsinki has 85 councilors, and every four years they are all up for re-election. The number of candidates running for those 85 seats is … wait for it … 994. Yes, there are 994 candidates running for office. I know this because, for the last two weeks, there have been placards all over the city where each party puts up a poster with their candidates for the voters to examine. And each candidate has a number.

Here’s the way this works: I vote for a specific candidate from a specific party. The parties are then assigned seats based on the proportion of votes received, and then the party assigns those to the candidates within the party with the most votes. There are about a dozen parties, from the True Finns on the right to the Communist Workers Party on the left. Five parties hold significant numbers of seats in the national parliament.

A few days ago members of the the Keskusta (Centre) Party were handing out free bowls of pea soup and cups of coffee near the metro station. There was a soap box and speaker on a megaphone. I asked a young candidate about the party’s platform, and he provided a reasoned and coherent explanation. I asked him how his party differed from the other parties, say the more liberal SDP and Greens. ‘Well, you’ll have to ask them,’ he said.

Finnish politics is, by American standards, dull. There is very little confrontation and a decided lack of convention-style grandstanding. Debates are muted and polite. Many Finns I’ve talked to find the shouting and flag waving of American politics perplexing and even disturbing. Generally, mainstream politics is more rational and less emotional. It makes terrible television.

Monday I met another candidate in front of the grocery store, handing out leaflets. She was from the center-right Kokoomus (Coalition), whose platform seems equivalent to a moderate Democrat in the US. I asked her about her political position, and then I asked why it mattered which party member I voted for. Wouldn’t they all follow the party line anyway? Yes, she said, but elected councilors would have a chance to set the priorities for the party in the city. For instance, the fact that the Helsinki city council had 45 women and 40 men meant that issues important to women — equal pay, child benefits, etc. — got more attention. She pointed out that her youth was an important factor in her electability because she could emphasize the issues facing those recently out of school. Fair enough.

I asked my wife how most Finnish Mormons voted. She gave me a funny look and said, ‘How would I know?’ So that’s that.

Election day is tomorrow. I’ve looked over the party statements, and I’ve chosen to vote Social Democrat. The big issue of the campaign is the privatization of the city’s excellent social services. The SDP seems to me to be in the best position to prevent privatization, or to make sure it happens responsibly if it becomes inevitable. I have a few other reasons, but that is the most coherent. So I checked out the list of the 120 SPD candidates and found one I liked on paper, and he lives in my neighborhood. I emailed him with a few questions and he invited me over for coffee. I was too busy, so he came out to the park where I took the kids this morning (with a bag of pastries in hand, bless him) and we had an excellent chat. He’s smart, reasonable, educated, funny, politically connected and a family man. So he’s my candidate. We’ll vote on the way home from church tomorrow.

So there’s my partisan rant. God bless us all in our democratic endeavors.


  1. Wow, that’s awesome! I would love to vote like that. And if only we all had your wife’s response to Mormon voting tendencies…

  2. Of course, you realize now that you’ve just condemned yourself to The Outer Darkness by voting for an organization called the “Social Democratic Party”. I mean, c’mon, with a name like that…

    Enjoy your stay!

  3. This is all so very cool.

  4. Tony, I expect to be visited by the ghost of my grandfather tonight, who considered Nelson Rockefeller a pinko.

  5. My Trib column tomorrow is about the street party thrown in Salt Lake when the results of the 1888 presidential election (Benjamin Harrison) were made known. That party makes the average citywide riot sound like kindergarten naptime, so we’ve gotten more civilized over time. Give us another 800 years and we might be as civilized as the Finns.

  6. Those Finns…they just don’t see America like you and I see America.

  7. Mark Brown says:

    Very cool, Norbert.

    I think a very good case could be made that the health of a democratic polity can be expressed as the inverse of the amount of time, money, and energy that is spent campaigning.

  8. I look forward to that article Ardis!

  9. Norbert, I think Grandpa was on to something…

    Commies…They’re everywhere! :0

  10. Oh, to have those choices!

    Your wife’s answer is priceless – and deeply profound. I wish my wife could answer the same here in the states.

  11. Julie M. Smith says:

    “I think a very good case could be made that the health of a democratic polity can be expressed as the inverse of the amount of time, money, and energy that is spent campaigning.”

    That’s supposed to be true in advertising: the less difference between the products, the more they spend on advertising.

  12. Peter AMDG says:

    Sounds like a decent compromise between proportional representation and plurality systems.

    Let us know how it turns out.

  13. I’m a member of 30+ years here in the UK, and with the exception of one brother who has previously stood for elected office, I have no idea of the political affiliations of any of my fellow ward members. it’s not something we have ever discussed. I think the position in the US is the exception rather than the rule.

  14. I’m rooting for the Social Democrats as well … but it’s 2 years until the election here in Sweden.

    How the Swedish Mormons vote? ‘How would I know?’

    Thank goodness.

  15. I love witnessing campaigning in other countries. Japanese campaigns seem to be run out of trucks with large PA systems.

    “Brother McCain” made an appearance in a recent fast and testimony meeting here. I would guess, though, that all US congregations are a bit more politicized than congregations elsewhere. The LDS seem rather restrained compared to many.

  16. Researcher says:

    I’m not familiar with the politics of my ward members here in the Mid-Atlantic region. I didn’t realize it until reading your post. I guess I was fairly familiar with the politics of the ward members when I was growing up since I lived in the Mormon corridor.

    Even when Romney was running there wasn’t much in the way of political discussion here. I think one person had a Romney bumper sticker. Politics is never discussed in church, except for one very weird half-hearted attempt one week in Sunday School.

    You can all be very jealous, with the exception of the Europeans. If you are jealous enough, please contact me and I will let you know where we live so you can relocate here. We would love more members of the church in our area.

  17. Anne, I think you’re right that things are very different for Mormons outside the U.S. In many of the Latin American wards I’ve been a part of, people had substantial political diversity. There certainly was no assumption of a single “Mormon way of voting.” At the same time, many Latin American congregations seem to have a norm of more open political discourse. Members often talk quite frankly about their political views and party loyalties, usually but not always outside of Sacrament Meeting.

  18. It sounds nice just because with so many parties and candidates is sounds like it would be easier to find a candidate that matches all that you want.

  19. My experience with elections in foreign countries is isolated to Buchi vs. Aylwin vs “Fra Fra” Errazuriz. You think Prop 8 is ugly? Try being in a branch in Chile in 1989 where half of the members have pictures of Pinochet on their walls, and the other half know a desaparecido.

    (Greatest campaign slogan I’ve ever heard: “No mas bla bla. Vote por Fra Fra.”)

    Ultimately, I live in Texas now, where it really doesn’t matter who I vote for, presidentially. I’m more concerned about whether I should vote for the school bond.

  20. It sounds nice just because with so many parties and candidates is sounds like it would be easier to find a candidate that matches all that you want.

    There’s a website (in Finnish) with a bunch of policy questions that will tell which candidate matches your political position. I took it and my top three choices were from the various Communist Parties. Eep.

    So at church today I asked about any Mormons on the ballot, and while there aren’t any in our city, I got about ten names with various party affiliations, from Christian Democrats on the right to quite a few Greens on the left. (A member is a Green party secretary.)

  21. All I can say is that, as much as I love my country, I can only dream of living in a democracy sufficiently able to detatch itself from its adulation (bordering on worship) of the authors of its Constitution so as to be able to recognize the limits of their otherwise remarkable accomplishment, and recognize that a parliamentary democracy with proportional representation–a 19th-century development–makes more sense in dozens of different ways.

    Way to be a good citizen, Norbert! Keep fighting the good fight.

  22. There’s a website (in Finnish) with a bunch of policy questions that will tell which candidate matches your political position. I took it and my top three choices were from the various Communist Parties. Eep.

    Ha! I knew it! That noise you hear is your Grandpa rolling over in his grave!!!

    I kid, I kid…

  23. Russell, seriously? PR and parliamentary systems? These things ONLY work in countries that are (a) homogenous and (b) don’t face significant challenges. Because when they represent divided societies amidst serious challenges, they tend to do poorly. France, prior to the 5th Republic is a great example. So to are the Germans (right now–particularly since grand coalitions are really tremendously anti-democratic things; they mean that whoever you vote for, the politicians really make all the decisions about who is in power; see also Austria). You can also add Israel to this list–ever since they went to a PR system where you could vote for a candidate for PM and a (possibly different) party, their governments have made the Italians looks stable(also a good example of how this is a disfunctional system). You can also add Belgium to this list…

  24. Re: #23: Agreed. Plus, if we had a parliamentary system in this country Newt Gingrich would have been Prime Minister in the 90’s. Newt Gingrich! *shudder*

  25. An update:

    The centre-right Coalition Party made some gains, having a national majority for the first time ever, with 23%; my SDP came in second with 21%, and the Centre Party came in third with 20% … worrying for them as they currently control the national Parliament.