Did you know you can vote in April 2017 ?
You have the right to vote in the Helsinki municipal elections if you’ve lived in Helsinki for more than two months, are 18 years of age by April 9th 2017 and you are:
- A citizen of a EU member state – or Iceland or Norway and officially lived in Finland on February 11th 2017
- OR You have officially lived in Finland for two years by February 11th, 2017 regardless of your citizenship
In this case, you should’ve received a letter in Finnish, that looks roughly like this:
The letter is informing you of your right to vote and in which municipality it applies. It also informs you of the address of your assigned polling station if you’re planning to vote on election day, which is April 9th. I however warmly recommend voting early, since this can be done at ANY Finnish polling station, in Finland. You can vote in advance between March 29th and April 4th. I like to vote at the Main Post Office (postitalo) downtown.
Let’s get down to basics. Helsinki City Hall consists of 85 elected party representatives. Other municipalities have fewer. The parties compete against each other by presenting candidates, hoping for the candidates to get votes. Voters vote for candidates using their polling numbers that are different for each municipality, as are the candidates.
Here’s how the voting system basically works (simplified): first we count the sum total of votes based on the parties of the voted candidates to determine the amount of seats per party, and after this the seats are filled with those within the party who got the most votes. This election system means that even if a single candidate got many votes, they don’t really matter unless the candidate’s party or alliance also got many votes. This leads to parties trying to put up as many candidates as possible (127) to attract as many votes as possible. The other effect of the system is that while parties compete against each other, the candidates within said parties also compete against each other.
What is decided in the municipal elections?
The cities and municipalities of Finland are not allowed to write laws. Laws are written by the parliament of Finland. But there are very important things that are decided by the cities/municipalities. This includes the following major things:
- Zoning, land use, building permits and housing. The city has been extremely slow in zoning new areas for the last decade or so, which is felt in the increasing housing prices especially for small apartments and apartments around the city proper. An unwritten rule of not building tall buildings has also been enforced, resulting in inefficient land use. My take on this is that we should:
- aggressively zone new residential area projects outward from the city center, to compensate for the falling behind goals by several thousand apartments yearly for the last decade.
- actively direct building projects to aim for at least 8 floors
- allow existing apartment building lofts to be converted into apartments
- allow empty office buildings to be turned into apartments for a period of three years at a time
- allow building residential blocks by removing the requirement for direct sunligt onto street level between houses (yes, Helsinki actually has enforced a rule that means the distance between houses needs to equal the height of the houses. This is great for detached homes in a suburb, but not for urban city environments, for obvious reasons. Old silliness we need to stop right *now*. )
- allow apartment buildings to be built without a regulation for the amount of parking spaces (due to regulation, we’re building an excess of residential parking spots in new projects, which is extremely expensive to do underground. Again, old regulation that belongs in the past.)
- Public transport and local roads. The municipalities have jurisdiction of those roads within their borders that they “claim their own” as in they assume the responsibility of maintaining them. Usually highways are not included. Public transport in the Helsinki region is funded by both ticket revenue and tax money from the municipalities at about a 50/50 ratio. My take on this is that:
- We need to keep expanding the public transport network especially to new, dense residential areas
- Public transport needs to not only be cheap and affordable, but also fast
- Because public transport raises the land value around stations and stops, and public transport is funded out of the pockets of people who live and work in Helsinki, we should tax the increase on land value, because otherwise the investment is a free revenue source for housing companies. Let’s not funnel taxpayer money into private profits if we don’t need to.
- Elementary schools and some secondary education. The curriculums on an abstract level are decided by the state, but the schools themselves have a lot of freedom in the stated goals are met. The city/municipality is responsible for the funding of these schools and most of the schools are public, so city hall has a big role in determining the outcomes of pupils. Things we could definitely improve include better salaries for teachers who face pupils from more demanding backgrounds, later school starting hours for children above 9 y.o. and more active stances on bullying that include demanding teachers to take responsibility. Higher education such as colleges and universities are not the responsibility of municipalities, and so these elections have no say over them.
- Until 2019: arranging and funding healthcare and social services. The government is trying to radically change the funding and organizational structure of healthcare and social services and the change is supposedly going to take place in 2019, when healthcare and social services will become the responsibility of the state. This means an enormous part of politics is shifted to the parliament from the city halls. This is quite limiting, so many politicians refrain from even suggesting any changes in the system before then. Until then, the municipality has quite a lot of leeway in how these basic services are arranged, as the government only defines the tasks.
- Taxation. Most people don’t really pay many taxes to the government. Instead, most of their tax money goes into the city/municipality they live in. This means especially for people who work for a salary should have an interest in how their tax money is spent. These are those elections. I’m vouching for increase taxation on land value increases which allows us to lower the taxation of salary workers i.e. low-to-mid income earners.
Remember to vote on Sunday at the latest. You don’t need the voting right ticket, just a passport, police-issued ID card or driver’s license. The candidate numbers are listed at the polling station. You go the the polling station, they might check your ID. You’ll be given a folded paper (the ballot). You vote by going into the private booths around and writing the candidate number you want to vote for inside the circle on the paper. If you draw anything but numbers (such as a name) on the ballot, it will be discarded and excluded from the count. You also need to make sure that the 1’s and 7’s are not mistakeable for each other. You fold the ballot, walk to the ballot box points, where your ID will be checked and your vote will be stamped, your voting right registered as used, and your ballot put into a ballot box.
A summary on the parties relevant in Helsinki (and an attempt to be as objective as possible):
I myself am a candidate for the Green Party in Helsinki. I’m a liberal, blogger, nonfiction author, expert on Finnish social and active labour policy development, digitalization researcher, former startup entrepreneur, part-time DJ and passionate chef of East-Asian cuisine. I’ve spent the last four years on the board of Helsinki City Transport that operates the trams and metro trains (not the West Metro construction project) and as a vice member of the City Board’s ICT section.
I think we should use all available means to solve the artificial housing crisis and decrease the cost of living through a radical increase in the supply of housing for households of different sizes. By solving the housing crisis, we alleviate poverty, alleviate stress that causes alcohol and drug abuse and increase the purchasing power of Helsinki residents. This leads to increased wellbeing, increased profitability of working and an increased supply of jobs. Trying to solve these problems without a larger picture is quite futile. The solutions are there. What we need now is courage to use them.
I’m Lilja Tamminen and I’m aiming for City Hall as candidate no. 722.