This blogpost is part of our Frequently Asked Legal Questions series and describes the Swedish Sami Parliament election.This upcoming Sunday, May 16, 2021, the Sami Parliament (Sametinget) in Sweden holds its general election. The date also marks the 18th anniversary of the first Swedish Sami Parliament election in 1993.
1. What is the Sami Parliament in Sweden?
The Swedish Sametinget was established by law in 1992 in the Sami Parliament Act (Sametingslag (SFS 1992:1433)). Despite its name, the Swedish Sami Parliament is a government agency (förvaltningsmyndighet). Its main task is to “monitor issues relating to Sami Culture in Sweden.” (1 ch. 1 § Sametingslag.) It is also the government agency for reindeer husbandry industry issues. (1 § Förordning med instruktion för sametinget (SFS 2009:1395).)
Among other things, the Sami Parliament determines the Swedish Sami administrative areas (samebyområdena) (7 § Rennäringslagen (SFS 1971:437)), hears appeals from persons who have been denied membership into a Sameby (12 § Rennäringslagen), is the repository for Sameby bylaws (39 § Rennäringslagen), sets the remuneration for Sameby officials (50 § Rennäringslagen), and administers the registration of reindeer marks (Renmärkning) (74 § Rennäringslagen). The Sami Parliament’s decisions can be appealed in the public administrative courts. (99 § Rennäringslagen.)
The Sami Parliament is funded through a regleringsbrev (instruction letter) issued by the Swedish government each year.
The election of representatives to the Sami Parliament is regulated in chapter 3 of the Sami Parliament Act.
2. Who are the Sami people?
The Sami are a nomadic ethnic group that has historically lived in the area of Sápmi (northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia) for hundreds of years, and are recognized as an indigenous group in Norway.
The Swedish treatment of Sami rights has been criticized by the United Nations. The Swedish Constitution defines the Sami as an ethnic group (“folkgrupp”) with designated rights (1 kap. 2 § Regeringsformen). Even though Sweden voted in favor of the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous People, it has not legally recognized the Sami people’s right to self-determination and has not ratified the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention of 1989 (ILO169). In Sweden, the Sami people’s rights are tied to language rights for anyone who has one of the many Sami languages as a living language in their home, or reindeer herding rights for persons who own reindeer, as well as fishing and hunting rights based on time immemorial rights. Additional resources can be found at the end of this blog post.
3. Who can vote in the Sami parliamentary elections?
A person must be registered in the Sami electoral rolls in order to vote in the elections for the Swedish Sami Parliament. To register, voters must qualify as a member of the Sami people (same) as defined in 1 kap. 2 § and meet the conditions laid out in 3 kap. 3 Sametingslagen.
1 kap. 2 § Sametingslagen states that:
For purposes of this act, a Sami person is defined as a person who considers him or herself to be a Sami and
- makes it probable that he or she has had Sami as a language in the home, or
- makes it probable that any of his or her parents, or grandparents has or has had Sami as a language in the home, or
- has a parent that is or has been registered in the Sami Parliament electoral rolls.
What is stated in 1 para 3 item does not apply when the County Administrative Board has decided that the parent shall no longer be registered in the electoral rolls because the parent is not a Sami person.
In addition, 3 kap. 3 § Sametingslagen provides that voters must be at least 18 years old and a Swedish citizen or resided in Sweden for at least three years.
Persons who have sought to register as Sami voters may appeal a negative decision to the County Administrative Board (Länsstyrelsen). (3 kap. 5a § Sametingslagen.) In addition, any person registered as a Sami voter may appeal the decision to include or not include someone else. (3 kap. 5a § Sametingslagen.)
The number of persons who have sought to be included in the Sami Parliament electoral rolls have increased in recent years, with reportedly more than a thousand new applications for inclusion in 2020. DNA technology has helped some people discover that they have Sami heritage.
The Sami Parliament electoral rolls has been criticized as creating unequitable results, where one sibling may be admitted, whereas the other is not. In 2021, the chairperson of the Electoral Committee Per Mikael Utsi stepped down after having appealed the inclusion of 47 voters in his personal capacity.
4. How is the vote conducted?
Elections to the Sami Parliament are required by law to be held every four years, on the third Sunday in May. (3 kap. 1 § Sametingslagen.)
Persons registered to vote may vote either in person on election day at designated polling places or by mail-in-voting. (3 kap. 13 § Sametingslagen.) This year, in-person-voting is available in 24 locations. Although most of the voting venues are found in Sapmi areas, voting places are also made available in Sweden’s two largest cities: Stockholm and Göteborg. There is no in-person early voting.
Voting ballots are sent a month prior to the election, and mail-in-voting must be prepared in the presence of two witnesses aged 18 or older who must sign the outer envelope and certify that the person voting is the eligible voter, and mailed no later than on election day. (3 kap. 19-20 §§ Sametingslagen.) In-person-voting requires a valid government-issued photo ID. Polling stations must be open between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. on election day. (3 kap. 14 § Sametingslagen.) Reportedly, more than 2,000 voters have voted as of May 11, 2021.
5. Are there any COVID-19 restrictions or measures tied to the elections?
Sweden remains one of the places in Europe with the highest per capita spread at the time of writing this blog post, with all regions reporting a 14-day average of more than 480 positive COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents.
As mentioned above, voters can either vote in person on election day or through mail-in-voting witnessed by two people. For those who vote on election day, the polling stations have taken certain measures to ensure the safe operation of the election, including requiring polling staff to wear masks and facial shields, offering hand sanitizer to voters, and cleaning the polling booth between voters. The customary Swedish fika (coffee and cinnamon buns) offered during a normal election year has also been cancelled.
6. How many political parties are represented in the Sami Parliament?
Eight parties are running in this year’s election, and their election platforms can be accessed online (in Swedish). Swedish Radio held a final debate in Swedish between the party chairs on May 5, 2021.
7. Where can I find Library of Congress resources on Sami?
- Sweden: Appellate Court Declares Decision on Shared Reindeer Herding Rights Invalid (2021)
- Sweden: Supreme Court Recognizes Sami Indigenous Groups Exclusive Right to Confer Hunting and Fishing Rights in Sami Area (2020)
- Sweden: Government Announces Truth Commission at Sami Repatriation Ceremony Following Official Sami Request (2019)
- Sweden: Sami Rights Litigated in Dispute Between Two Sami Groups (2019)
- Sweden: Changes to Law on National Minorities and Minority Languages Take Effect (2019)
- Norway: Supreme Court: Finnmark Estate Agency Has Right to Regulate Fishery, Hunting and Use of Natural Resources in Finnmark (2018)
- Sweden: Court Recognizes Exclusive Fishing Rights of Sami Village (2016)
Relevant In Custodia Legis blog posts:
- The Teaching Contract that Brought Sami Reindeer to Alaska (2020)
- Regulating the Movement of Grazing Reindeer in the North the Reindeer Convention of 1919 (2019)
- On the Shelf International and Foreign Resources on Indigenous Law (2019)
- The Trade Embargo Behind then Swedish Jokkmokk Sami Market (2017)
- Happy National Sami Day! (2015)
Relevant Law Library of Congress legal reports:
English language resources in the Library of Congress collection:
- Lars Ivar Hansen, Hunters in Transition: An Outline of Early Sámi History (2014)
- Dave Lewis, Indigenous Rights Claims in Welfare Capitalist Society: Recognition and Implementation: The Case of the Sami People in Norway, Sweden, and Finland (1998)
- Ulla Aikio-Puoskari et al., The Language Rights of the Indigenous Saami in Finland: Under Domestic and International Law (2001)
- The Proposed Nordic Saami Convention: National and International Dimensions of Indigenous Property Rights (Nigel Bankes et al., ed.) (2013)
- Self Determination and Indigenous Peoples : Sámi Rights and Northern Perspectives (1987)