Monday, November 12, 2012

Between party lines

What do you do when you live in another country and your country is having their presidential elections?

Apparently you go to your country's consulate and you vote as an absentee. But being ig-nant I had no idea this existed, so unfortunately I missed the deadline for properly registering and missed my opportunity.

It is a disappointment, I won't lie. I've voted in every single election that I could since I turned 18 and this is something I'm very proud of. I've been taught that my voice counts and even though my lovely country doesn't necessarily count based on majority for everything, I should always toss my vote their way.

I got around my disappointment by reassuring myself that my state will vote for the presidential candidate I'd vote for anyway (in all likelihood...and if it doesn't, I'll be 1. supremely surprised and 2. extremely embarrassed), and reassuring myself that I wouldn't be properly knowledgeable on any of the propositions this year anyhow, so, it's probably okay. It's likely the prop on GMO food labeling will go the way most of my friends want it to go (yes, please follow the standard much of the world is already following about telling us when our food has been modified), so, I dunno, I think all is fairly safe.

[Note: this was written before the elections happened...there is a post later about post-election results.]

I've decided to take a neutral stance in order not to drive myself crazy with guilt.

Coincidentally, Finland was also holding its elections. It wasn't anything as big as a presidential election, as they had that last year when I was first meeting my team, but still, people were campaigning and gearing up to vote, so I got to experience my first political situation outside of my own country.

It was a lot different, I'd have to say.

First off, I don't have television. Nor can I read Finnish/I don't get Finnish newspapers or magazines. So that cut way down on the exposure I would have had of the candidates and their campaigning material.

But it seems either way that's not a big thing here. Because no one is supported by big companies or backed by big money in general (people actually pay for their materials themselves, heaven forbid), most people do pretty small-scale things - handing out leaflets at grocery stores, making little flyers they drop into people's mailboxes (either themselves or by close friends and families), or just doing meet and greets in public places, since there aren't huge security problems in this country.

As it turns out, also, I knew two people running in their local elections. O, of the wondrous couple J & O, was running in Helsinki, and my teammate, the illustrious JMK, was running in his community of Somero, where he's basically lived all of his life except for a brief stint (I believe when he left for university for about 10 years). Other than that, he's lived there his entire life (50 years).

Anyway, it was interesting knowing people who were actually running for real political positions. And their approaches to campaigning as compared to what I'd been exposed to in the States. They walked around like normal people, didn't even ask their friends or coworkers about their political views, and never really promoted themselves. The most I got asked is if I would pass out flyers in my building for O's campaign (since I'm in the Helsinki voting district). I did it, since I'm more than happy with supporting a friend, and I had the hilarious adventure of dropping things into my neighbors' mail slots for the first time ever (since it's not like I was inviting them every weekend to come over for that big "I'm the new neighbor" bash).

...most memorably after I dropped one into a slot on the 3rd floor I was then almost given a heart attack by the sounds of a tiny barking dog charging the door after the glossy card I'd just dropped into its premises. I quickly ran away, hoping my neighbor wouldn't open her door screaming bloody murder at me. Although I'd learned what "ei mainoksia" meant (no ads), I still had no idea what some of the other signs on people's doors meant (there were some located near their doorbells, which I assumed had nothing to do with their mail preferences...perhaps I was wrong).

Anyway, apparently their voting system is still done manually, as compared to our own. Like people literally handwrite their voting preferences onto a piece of paper, bring it someone at the voting polls, who then stamps it with an officious voting stamp, and it gets dropped into an official voting box. The votes are then hand-counted by official counters (the same counters, year after year) and the results are announced about 2 hours later the same day.

This is unheard of where I come from. Even when we just have city-wide or county-wide elections. Completely handwritten? Ridiculous. No standardized forms? Would never happen. Handcounted? I don't think so.

Also they have a pre-election day and a real election day. On pre-election day, which is the Wednesday before election day, you can go to the post office and vote like you would on election day. Get it over earlier. Or you can come on Sunday and vote then, like normal people. Or you can do an absentee ballot and send it in. So many choices!

And the voting requirements are pretty lax. If you've been residing in Finland for 2 years or more, you're allowed to vote. So both German K and Hong Kong P were allowed to vote in the Helsinki district this election. They both voted for O to show their support. I was still that noob with no voting rights.

I followed Hong Kong P to her voting session out of curiosity more than anything else; especially after hearing that everything was done by hand (literally). Also we happened to have come out of seeing a movie (Taken Liam Neeson) and I was basically following her around because I had nothing else to do.

Anyway, we went into the designated building for our neighborhood (one of the academic buildings about two blocks from our apartments) and after about 5 minutes of describing how she'd lost the voting card sent to her in the mail (hilarious), they found her on the check list and let her vote. Two seconds later, she was done.

Apparently you just write down the numbers of the candidates you want to vote for, and that's it. Since Helsinki is such a big city ("big city"), it had hundreds of candidates. Literally, hundreds:

This is a snapshot of what the candidate list looked like. The voting ballot is a blank half-sheet of paper. You are literally given a pencil and you handwrite the numbers of the candidates down. That's it.


Anyhoo, at the end of the day, unfortunately O didn't win his election but hilarious JMK did. Guess knowing your community really does make a difference (Somero has a population of 10,000 whereas Helsinki has 500,000).

I know a real politician now!

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