|Voting in elections||Graphical version|
By voting, people give their support to a person or party. Voting can also be seen as citizens saying they approve of the prevailing social order: it can be interpreted as voters regarding democracy as a good way of governing society.
In elections voters consider who to give their vote to. They examine the lists of candidates to find a suitable person and party. Some voters place more emphasis on finding the right person while for others the correct party is the most decisive factor.
In Finnish parliamentary, municipal and European elections a vote is usually not “wasted” as such, as it will in any case increase the total of votes received by the candidate’s party, but if a party does not receive enough votes to get seats in Parliament, it may be claimed that votes received by it were wasted.
This can also happen in a situation where a party has formed an electoral alliance with one or several other parties in its electoral district. In such cases it is possible that a vote given ends up benefiting parties other than the one selected by the voter.
But, parties attempt to form alliances that are beneficial for them. A larger issue is the current Finnish election system, which is somewhat favourable to larger parties and makes it difficult to achieve proportionality between electoral districts that differ from each other in size.
There is also the danger that – as the vote ultimately goes to a party – it ends up helping a candidate who has been put up by that party but who the voter does not like.
Candidates furiously for and against a controversial issue can stand for the same party in the same electoral district, for example.
Accordingly, people within parties are usually not totally unanimous in their views. Instead, constant dialogue takes place on the direction of party politics. Lively discussion on principles does not indicate a crisis within a party – it constitutes healthy exchange of ideas among members and therefore belongs to democracy.
A vote can also be used strategically. For example, a voter may try to vote against a specific candidate by calculating who they should vote for in order to best stop a candidate they do not like from being elected.
Sometimes people vote for the second best candidate. A voter may decide to do this if their number one candidate looks certain to get in and they wish to ensure the second best candidate also remains ahead of those the voter rates as poorer options.
A voter may also opt for not voting for their favourite because the candidate’s chances of being elected look very slim.
In Finnish representative democracy voters do not get to vote directly on members of the Government (Cabinet) or the Prime Minister (who heads the work of the Government and its day-to-day policies).
Therefore it is difficult for a voter in an election to demand increases in child allowance or cuts in fuel tax as parties promising these must first go through negotiations to claim their place in the Government and then persuade the other Government parties to adopt the same view.
In Finland parties do not necessarily tell voters beforehand which issues or Government partners will decide whether or not they will join a Government.
Therefore voters take a stand at a general level on overall policies and parties’ ideological principles as presented in election programmes. In elections voters cannot directly influence post-election day-to-day politics. Elections are not about specific issues – although voters may believe that this is the case.
The right to vote can be regarded as a right that we must exercise because we enjoy the opportunity in a democratic society. Many people feel that as citizens of democratic Finland they are downright obliged to voice their opinion about public issues.
Some regard voting in elections as a seemingly democratic duty that in their opinion has no real impact on societal decision-making. For them voting appears an inefficient means of influence. People may only vote because they feel it would be inappropriate not to vote.
For some people elections offer an opportunity for protest participation. Donald Duck and his friends continue to draw many votes in election after election in Finland. Such votes are always rejected during the count.
By casting an empty vote a voter may express that none of the candidates meets their requirements. At the same time an empty vote still indicates that the voter is interested in societal issues.
Even the decision not to vote can be regarded as a political act. People protest against the prevailing system by staying at home. On the other hand, not voting can just be due to lack of interest.
Elections [Ministry of Justice, Finland]
Updated on October 12, 2006