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In this paper the validity of a finite element method based analysis tool, Maxwell software, has been demonstrated to calculate the electric field distribution in high voltage surge arresters. First, a one column porcelain surge arrester model described in IEC 60099-4, Annex L was simulated with Maxwell. The calculation results were then compared with the modeling results published in IEC 60099-4. Generally, the curve of the voltage stress along the arrester column is very similar and the difference in maximum voltage stresses in different units is within 10%. Second, Maxwell was used to calculate the electric field distribution of a polymer surge arrester model with different grading designs. The simulation results suggest that the position of the grading ring on the voltage distribution is very significant. The results also show that the voltage distribution is not significantly affected by the diameter of the grading ring as well as the diameter of the tubing used for constructing the grading ring. The simulation also gives an optimized design of grading ring for this polymer surge arrester model which exhibits satisfactory electrical performance.