Pre-election party campaign advertising ban lifted ahead of October polls

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Constituent casting a vote in a poll booth in the 2017 local government elections. Source: (Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR)

The October local elections see several reforms to the system, which the National Electoral Commission has introduced, including more flexibility on choice of polling stations, a lift on the ban on pre-election outdoor party advertising, and changes to the e-voting schedule.

All residents in Estonia can vote in the local elections, which take place at polling booths on Sunday, October 17, preceded by a six-day advance voting period, when e-votes can be cast. In other words all non-citizens who hold a residency permit can vote, in the constituency in which they are resident.

e-votes can be canceled and re-cast, while a paper vote on election day can be cast, and will supersede any previous e-vote.

Several changes to the voting regime compared with the last direct elections in 2019 have been introduced, including an elimination of the lag between the announcement of the e-vote result and the overall electoral results, ERR reports.

Electoral committee manager Arne Koitmäe told ERR Friday that: "Since e-votes can be canceled until 8 p.m., we will start counting them only after that time."

"Whereas in the past the results of e-voting were published at 8 p.m. i.e. when the polls closed, they will now be announced later, together with the results of paper voting," Koitmäe said.

In the March 2019 general election, the e-vote proved to be particularly fruitful for the Reform Party, which picked up 40 percent of the total, as announced several hours before the overall result, while the party polled less than 30 percent overall.

Other changes see the much-panned pre-election blackout period axed.

The previous role meant that political parties had not been able to advertise outdoors, including on outdoor advertising hoardings, though online ads were still permissible.

This, it was argued, led to the exploitation of loopholes, for instance when the Center Party placed poster-sized electoral adverts inside its headquarters on Narva mnt. In Tallinn, but which were still visible from street level (the office is glass-fronted).

It will also save the authorities from having to investigate potential infringements of the rules, Koitmäe said. 

"It has become easier for the police to monitor this restriction. They no longer have to deal with prohibited outdoor political advertising, and the limits of this outdoor political advertising were also touched every year to see which advertising is still allowed and which is no longer," he said.

The exception to the new regulations concern the polling stations themselves, which must remain advertisement-free.

However, the largest change, Kotimäe said, concerns the introduction of electronic voter lists which mean voters wanting to cast their ballot on paper do not have to attend one specific polling station, but can attend any in their constituency, a development which, he said, gives the electorate more flexibility.

The change has also amended the advance voting period, during which e-votes can be cast – with other options available to Estonian citizens living outside the country – starting on Monday, October 11 and culminating on election day, Sunday, October 17, when paper votes-only can be cast.

Previously, a "dark period" followed the advance voting period and separated it from polling day.

e-votes cannot be cast on election day itself; Saturday, October 16 is the last day e-voting is permissible.

A paper vote can be used on election day to override the e-vote, though Kotimäe said this had not proven popular in the past, only being used a few dozen times at an election.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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