Civil Rights Defenders Files Discrimination Lawsuit against the City of Stockholm

Sign pointing to a polling station. Photo: Hadar_Holm/Mostphotos

The City of Stockholm electoral office denies any wrongdoing when dismissing a polling station official after he had reported discrimination. Civil Rights Defenders disagree – we argue that the electoral office has violated the Swedish Discrimination Act, and we have decided to file a lawsuit against the City of Stockholm.

In mid-May 2019, it was reported that voters who refused to hand over their ballot paper to a specific employee because of their ethnic affiliation, skin colour, or foreign background would be referred to another staff member. These guidelines received major attention by the Swedish media. They were highlighted in the context of a training for staff assigned to collect ballot papers in the City of Stockholm, organised ahead of the European Parliament election.

Harry Peronius. Photo: private

Harry Peronius, previously a polling station official, criticised the guidelines and argued that they allowed for racial discrimination. Not long after, Peronius was dismissed from his assignment with the motivation that he, according to his employer, had expressed that he would deny people their right to vote.  

A violation of the Discrimination Act

Civil Rights Defenders is critical of the actions undertaken by the City of Stockholm electoral office. We argue that the authority has violated the Swedish Discrimination Act on several points.

“Guidelines that allow for voters to choose whom they hand their ballot paper to based on ethnic background are discriminatory,” said John Stauffer, Legal Director at Civil Rights Defenders.

Shortly after Harry Peronius was dismissed from his assignments, Civil Rights Defenders began acting as his legal representative. We requested a meeting with the electoral office to discuss its guidelines regarding how racism in polling stations should be addressed.

During the meeting, and in a subsequent letter to the electoral office, Civil Rights Defenders called for an apology where the authority acknowledges wrongdoing. We also demanded Harry Peronius should receive compensation for being subjected to discrimination as well as for lost income, and that he should be reinstated to his old position.

Lawsuit against the City of Stockholm and the local electoral office 

The answer came at the end of January – the electoral office is not willing to meet our demands. Instead, it argues that there are no discriminatory guidelines and denies any wrongdoing in connection with the dismissal of Harry Peronius.

“The actions by the electoral office are very problematic. Reprisals against employees who use their right to report discrimination is serious and must accordingly have consequences,” said John Stauffer.

We are now filing a lawsuit against the City of Stockholm and the electoral office. In addition to the Discrimination Act, we argue that the electoral office has also violated the Freedom of the Press Act and the European Convention on Human Rights.

The guidelines need to be clarified

A folder produced by the City of Stockholm directed to staff assigned to collect ballot papers during elections state that: “The City of Stockholm rejects all forms of racism and discrimination, but that does not mean that a voter can be denied to vote, nor that a ballot station staff member can encourage their colleagues not to accept votes.”

Civil Rights Defenders argues that the City of Stockholm electoral office needs to clarify what these guidelines mean in practice. It has to develop a new policy which clarifies that voters do not have the right to choose whom to hand their ballot paper to based on their ethnic affiliation or any other grounds for discrimination.

“Ensuring strong protections for the freedom to vote is essential in a democracy, but these protections must be fully compatible with fundamental rights and freedoms. In its capacity as a municipal authority, the electoral office must put its foot down and show that it stands up for equality and against racism and discrimination,” said John Stauffer.

“Allowing racism in one of democracy’s most important spaces – the polling station – is unacceptable and a sign of an unpleasant development in society,” said Harry Peronius.

Download the lawsuit

Click here to download the lawsuit (in Swedish).


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