American in Göteborg on a Mission for All Americans in Sweden to Vote

How does one turn out the overseas vote to help decide the US midterm elections coming up on 8 November – elections that could be very close? Göteborg resident Rick Wicks has one answer.

Wicks, a 75-year-old member of the Western Sweden chapter of Democrats Abroad who has lived in Sweden for 30 years and has dual citizenship, decided to put his bicycle to work. Since the summer, he has cycled around Göteborg and taken the train around western Sweden, posting flyers and stickers on community notice boards. The flyers and stickers urge the estimated 20,000 Americans living in Sweden to request their ballots (and, of course, remember to send them in!).

All 435 seats in the US House of Representatives and a third of the members of the Senate are up for election. Control of both houses, currently in the hands of the Democratic Party, are up for grabs with the polls, especially for control of the Senate, extremely close. It is not unusual for a candidate’s margin of victory in a race to be less than the overseas vote in that district.

Wicks carries a stepladder on the back of his bicycle, the better to post up high where he hopes that the cleaners won’t remove his efforts and others won’t post over them. First, he cleans away old posters and staples so that the flyers will lie flat. Then he staples the new flyers in place, leaving an empty border so as to attract more attention.

Two years ago [for the last presidential election] I started posting with little postcards that I had on hand. Actually, first I started with big posters. I just posted like other people do, but of course they got covered up right away, and I ran out of them. Then I had postcards, and I thought, they’ll disappear even easier. But if I put them up high, maybe they won’t get covered up.”

Encouraged by his success, he decided to expand his operations this year by hitting all 30 notice boards in Göteborg and as many as he could easily reach by train throughout the Västra Götaland region: 18 by his count, including Halmstad, Jönköping, Mariestad, and Åmal. He designed his own flyers in heavy card stock and had them professionally printed – larger than the postcards so they are easier to see, but not so large as to be hard to place.

The work is slow and labor intensive.

I clean away all the old staples, which is kind of crazy. It can take an hour per side. It can take four hours to do one location.” The results look good though, and with any luck, passing Americans will notice all the US flags lined up and stop to have a closer look.

He gets occasional curious glances, he says, but for the most part just gets ignored by passersby. Occasionally someone will strike up a conversation.

Just the other day, I was down at Kungsportsplatsen re-posting and a woman said ‘oh yeah!’ and took a picture. It sounded like maybe her daughter had been in school here and was back in the States now. She was here on a cruise. She wanted to give the picture to her daughter. She thanked me so much for doing this.” Another time it was a young man interested in US politics.

Some notice boards pose distinct challenges.

I got to this one little town somewhere – it was Mariestad – and I get out to this one location, and I think, oh wow. Some of the notice boards are wood and some of them are metal but this one, just looking at it from a distance before I got up close, must be some kind of styrofoam. And then I realized, it’s a layer this thick [6-7cm.] of old posters. It’s never been cleaned.

It was all wet from the rain. It was stuck together like paper mâché. In places it was breaking loose, so it was hanging out. That was a mess, but I managed to clean a spot. I had to rip away everything.”

Wicks finds it much easier to vote in Sweden – where everyone is mailed a voting card and early voting is easy – compared to the States, where all overseas and most other absentee-ballot voters need to request ballots for each year they vote, and where early voting is increasingly restricted.

We should make it a lot easier and have a holiday in the States [where federal elections in modern times are always held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November – a workday for most people] and do lots of things so that everybody can vote.”

No matter how many additional Americans vote next month because of his efforts, Wicks sees benefits.

It’s good exercise. I figure that I’m biking a lot, and I’m climbing up and down this ladder. It’s hard work.”