Feature: How did non-Estonians vote in the 2021 local election?

A ballot being stamped at the local elections in October 2021.
A ballot being stamped at the local elections in October 2021. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Third country citizens' voting rights have been thrown into the headlines in recent weeks as political parties discuss rolling them back in the name of national security. But how many of these citizens cast a ballot in Estonia's elections? And where do they come from? ERR News looked at the data (and for EU citizens too).

In April, after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Isamaa, then in opposition but now in government, put forward legislation to strip third-country citizens of their voting rights.

This move is primarily aimed at Russian and Belarusian citizens and national security is the reason given.

But, if passed in the future, according to the bill's current wording, it will take away voting rights from every permanent resident who does not hold a passport from Estonia or an EU country.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) said the current government will not pass the voting reform while it is in office as the coalition has no agreement on it.

A ballot from Estonia's local elections in 2021. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

But that does not mean parties have changed their minds, and the bill has passed the first of three readings.

Isamaa is still set on passing the legislation. Reform also agrees but believes it should not apply to all citizens — only Russians and Belarusians. Coalition partner SDE and opposition party Center are both against it. While EKRE is pro.

While there appears to be no immediate change to the law, the next national election will be held in March 2023 which means parties may raise the issue again in the coming months.

The chancellor of justice has said the move is unconstitutional and she will challenge the bill in court if it is passed. The president is also against the move.

But this raises the question, which foreign citizens vote in Estonia's elections in the first place?

Who voted?

Voters at a polling station in Pärnu. Source: Kaupo Meiel / ERR

Third-country citizens are eligible to vote in local — but not national — elections if they have permanent residency.

This means they must have lived in Estonia for at least five years and passed the B1 language exam. EU citizens have the right to vote under EU law.

ERR News requested the data from the National Electoral Committee and was given two different data sets, one each for EU and non-EU citizens.

For third-country nationals, the data showed the results for countries when at least five people had voted. This totaled 19 countries and 57,347 votes.

For EU nationals, all data for votes cast by people from the 26 Member States was included. This comes to 3,877 votes.

In total, 61,224 non-Estonians voted in the last election, which is 10.47 percent of all ballots cast. In total, 584,902 people voted.

The data is visualized below and separated into third-country and EU citizens.

Third-county voters

In total, 139,281 non-Estonian and non-EU citizens have the right to vote in local elections but, as mentioned above, the data shows less than half did so — 57,347. The turnout rate was 41.2 percent.

The data set shows citizens from 19 third countries voted last November, as well as stateless people. Remember, this only includes countries whose citizens cast at least five ballots.

The highest number of votes came from Estonia's largest migrant communities: Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians. But citizens from further afield, such as the USA and China also participated.

To anyone who knows anything about Estonia's demography, it will come as no surprise to see that the highest total number of votes was cast by people who hold a Russian passport. In total, Russians cast 29,959 votes.

This was followed by 24,801 votes from stateless people, holders of so-called grey passports.

Then, after a significant gap, Ukrainians followed with 1,584 votes and Belarusians in fourth place with 528.

Citizens from the United Kingdom rounded out the top five, having cast 134 votes. The UK is also the only other nation to cast more than 100 votes.

Analyzing the share of voters shows 52.24 percent were from Russia, 43.24 percent were stateless, 2.76 percent were Ukrainian and 0.92 percent were Belarusian.

Voters from all other countries made up a total of 0.81 percent of the total number of third-country voters, 475 ballots in total.

Looking at the turnout rate of voters by nationality, Russian and stateless citizens fall out of the top five.

No country had a rate of over 50 percent, but Belarusians came closest with 49.5 percent. Turkey followed with 2 percent fewer and then Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Japan all have a share of over 45 percent.

Russian and stateless citizens had a turnout rate of 42.5 percent and 39.6 percent, respectively.

Switzerland, Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan, China, the U.S. and the UK round out the top 15.

The data set showing third-country voters by nationality can be viewed below.

European Union Citizens

The October 2021 local election e-vote being destroyed. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The National Electoral Committee provided ERR News with a different data set for European Union citizens.

It shows the number of votes cast and whether they used a paper ballot or voted online.

As mentioned above, 3,877 votes were cast by EU citizens, which is under 1 percent of all ballots — 0.63 percent in total.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, citizens of Estonia's nearest neighbors voted in the highest numbers.

Latvians were top with 819 votes, followed by Finns with 800 and Lithuanians a fair way behind with 490. Germany was fourth highest with 404 and Italy fifth with 211.

The bottom five were Cypriots and Luxembourgers who cast three votes each, the Maltese with five, six from Slovenes and nine from Croatians.

Looking at e-votes versus paper votes, the split was almost even which is similar to the overall trend in recent Estonian elections.

EU citizens cast 2,005 votes online and 1,872 at ballot boxes, which is 51.7 percent and 48.3 percent, respectively.

But citizens from some countries embraced Estonia's e-voting technology more enthusiastically than others.

For example, 100 percent of voters from Malta and Luxembourg vote online, although it must be kept in mind five or less people voted from each country.

But the number of Latvians and Lithuanians — who cast the highest and third highest number of votes in total — had the lowest share among all member states, at 36.39 and 33.88 percent respectively.

Finland was sixth from bottom with 53.63 percent.

European Union citizens' right to vote in Estonia's local election is enshrined in EU law and will not be affected if the new legislation is passed.

The data set can be viewed below.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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