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Nadworny: Voter ID

When I lived in Sweden, I couldn’t vote in national elections. But as a permanent resident I could vote in city and state elections.

More than 80% of Swedes actually cast ballots during elections – as compared with only about 50% here. And Sweden requires everyone to show ID when they vote. Contrary to U.S. beliefs, voter ID requirements do not inhibit Swedes from voting and there are good reasons why.

Note that Sweden is a very centralized place. Everyone gets a government ID number, called a personnummer, at birth or upon attaining residency status. Unlike our social security numbers, this personnummer follows an individual EVERYWHERE; schools, health care, workplace, taxes, you name it. The Swedes also use this number to cross-reference, so ID information can and will be shared.

One huge advantage of this is scientific: Swedish researchers have conducted some fascinating long term studies on health. My favorite is one from the ‘90s, showing that the single most influential factor of longevity is owning a dog.

But I digress.

Sweden automatically registers everyone to vote once when they turn 18. Since everyone has a well-used ID number, it’s not difficult to get a Swedish National Identity card. And unlike in some states here, it’s not necessary to drive a long distance and wait a long time to get one. Swedes are nothing if not efficient.

Come election time, ballots are distributed by mail. And since Sweden has a parliamentary system the vote is between parties instead of individuals so the ballot is pretty simple. To vote in person, you go to your polling place, take your ballot and put it in the right envelope, show your ID, drop off your envelope, and you’re done. An impressive 83% of Swedes do just that each election.

Since Sweden only has between 9 and 10 million citizens, the total number of voters is a lot smaller than here. And the price Swedes pay for highly participatory elections with voter IDs is a system that tracks all of its citizens through national ID numbers.

Imagine a system like that here: Democrats would hate the voter ID requirement while Republicans would hate the automatic voter registration. And everyone would hate the personnummer. I don’t expect we Americans would be willing to pay that high a price – even for a more engaged, participatory and regulated electorate.

Rich Nadworny is a designer who resides in Burlington and Stockholm.
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