The Swedish electoral system

Last updated: 4 10 2018

Image Boken om Sverige
This material is from the book About Sweden.

The fundamental element of a democratic society is our ability to choose which people are to represent us in general elections. Elections are very important as it is mainly through elections that the public can influence the politics that are conducted.

Elections and electoral turnout

A large turnout in elections (when a lot of people vote) indicates that many people have confidence in politicians and the democratic system. If the Riksdag, the regional and county council assemblies, and municipal councils are to be regarded as representative of the entire population, a sufficiently large number of those who have the right to vote have to turn out to vote in general elections. About 86 per cent of the Swedish population voted in the Riksdag election of 2014. Turnout in county council/regional and municipal elections was slightly lower. When you vote, the chance increases that someone who shares your views will be involved in governing the country.

There are major differences in electoral turnout between different groups of people. People with a low income and limited education are less likely to vote than people with a high income and a higher education. A smaller proportion of young people vote than do older people. Electoral turnout is also low among people who were born abroad. The interest in voting increases the longer a person has lived in Sweden.

General elections

There are four types of general election:

  • to the Riksdag,
  • to the country council/regional assembly,
  • to the municipal council, and
  • to the European Parliament.

Voters vote for party and may, at the same time, may vote for one of the people (candidates) listed on the voting slip (voting for a particular candidate). It is of course possible to vote for different parties in the different elections.

The electoral system in Sweden is proportional. This means that the parties are given a number of representatives in the elected assembly that is proportional to their share of the vote.

General elections to the Riksdag, regional/county council assemblies and municipal councils are held every four years, in September. These elections take place on the same day. Elections to the European Parliament are held every five years, usually in June.


A referendum provides politicians at the national, regional or local level with an opportunity to find out what the public's opinion is on a political issue. In Sweden, there are two types of referendum that apply to the entire country: advisory referendums and referendums on a matter of fundamental law. An advisory referendum is not binding. Politicians can thus make a decision that contradicts the result of the referendum. A referendum on a matter of fundamental law is held in conjunction with a Riksdag election and is always binding. However, this type of referendum has never been held in Sweden.

Sweden held its most recent national referendum in 2003. This was about whether Sweden should replace the Swedish krona with the euro. A majority of the Swedish people voted against introducing the euro. At the local level, there are generally referendums in one or more municipalities every year. A consultative referendum at the local level must be held on an issue if at least ten per cent of the municipal electorate demands it (this is known as a popular initiative). The referendum will not be held, however, if two thirds of the members of the municipal/county council/regional assembly oppose the proposal.

The right to vote

You have the right to vote in the Riksdag election is you are a Swedish citizen and are 18 years of age or older.

You have the right to vote in the European Parliament election if you are 18 years of age or older and are a citizen of an EU country.

You have the right to vote in municipal and county council/regional elections if you are at least 18 years old and have been registered in the Swedish population register for at least three years. You do not need to be a Swedish citizen to vote in municipal and county council/regional elections.

Prior to the elections, the Election Authority sends out a polling card to all those who are allowed to vote. The polling card is send to the address at which you are registered. You must take identification with you when you go to vote.

If you have the right to vote, you can also be elected to a political post. This means you can be elected as a member of the Riksdag, a county council/regional assembly or a municipal council.

When you vote, you choose which political party you want to support. You can also put a cross next to the name of the person you want to support. This is called voting for a particular candidate.

In Sweden the ballot is secret at elections. This means that you are not obliged to tell anyone which party you voted for. The officials at polling stations who receive your vote have no way of finding out which party you voted for.

Photo: Marcus Lundstedt, Johnér

Thresholds for small parties

In order for a party to enter the Riksdag, it has to win at least four per cent of the popular vote across the country, or twelve per cent of the votes in a constituency. In order for a party to enter a county council or regional assembly, it has to win at least three per cent of the vote. For elections to the European Parliament, the same threshold applies as for the Riksdag election, i.e. four per cent. Thresholds will be introduced in elections to municipal assemblies beginning in 2018, and will be two or three per cent of the vote, depending on the number of constituencies in the municipality.

There are many parties in Sweden that do not have places in the Riksdag, but are represented in municipalities and county councils/regions.