The advance voting period for the 2023 Riigikogu elections enters its second phase today, Friday, when all polling stations open across the country, starting 9.00 a.m. Polling day itself is Sunday, March 5.
During the advance period which started Monday, e-votes can also be cast, using Estonia's much-heralded online voting system.
All polling stations are open on the Friday and Saturday (12 p.m. to 8 p.m.), so paper votes can be cast during that period instead of on March 5 itself.
From Monday to Thursday, March 2, select polling stations were open, at least one per municipality. The rationale here is to permit those who for whatever reason cannot vote at the electoral district in their registered place of residence, to vote elsewhere - this would require registration, via the paper and email information sent to every Estonian voter.
On March 5 itself, an e-vote can be annulled by voting on paper, a new innovation this time around.
Also new this time is the absence of a "dark period" between the end of advance voting and polling day. While polling stations and e-voting close at 8 p.m. on the Saturday, polling stations reopen on Sunday at 9 a.m. (and close for good at 8 p.m.). Previously, e-voting and advance voting at polling stations had ended around three days before polling day.
The e-vote results also used to be announced separately from, and ahead of, the rest of the polling results, usually shortly after 8 p.m. on election day. Now, the entire results will be announced in one go.
Only citizens of Estonia can vote in the Riigikogu elections; the electorate will have received notification on paper and via email of their voting options.
e-voting opened Monday, February 27 at 9 a.m., Estonian time, and closes on Saturday, March 4, at 8 p.m. e-voting entails downloading an app from the state electoral committee website. The voting public can cast and re-cast their votes online as many times as they like during that period.
As of Thursday evening, more than 245,000 people had voted, the majority of whom, at 177,000, cast an e-vote, while 67,000 voted on paper at polling stations. This constitutes 26.7 percent of all eligible voters.
Voters so far include the head of state, Alar Karis, who vote Thursday, and the head of government, Kaja Kallas, who did so on Wednesday.
Both leaders voted online, again showcasing how Estonia's e-voting system works. Kallas voted using her laptop, in a Tallinn bookshop, while the president cast his vote from a public library in Kiidjärvi, Põlva County, using a free internet point to do so.
Last Saturday in Nõmme scene of full-on electioneering day
Last weekend saw the last major push for parties to get out there and meet the voters, likely both helped and hindered by the fact that Friday was a national holiday, Estonian Independence Day.
Another change since the 2019 Riigikogu elections means that outdoor election advertising is permitted right up to, and including, polling day. This has led to somewhat of a change in tempo in campaigning and canvassing this year, and ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) visited the outdoor market in Nõmme, a district of Tallinn, to take the temperature of the public and campaigners alike.
All the major parties had election tents, right next to each other, which made for a jocular atmosphere, AK reported.
Vilja Toomast, who was a Reform MP in the just-dissolved XIV Riigikogu and is running the same party, said that while campaigning will continue next week, this will be dialed down and not on the scale of Saturday's happenings in Nõmme.
"Life has demonstrated to us that people make their choices during the first three days of the advance period. After that, it's simply a question of reminding those who haven't yet voted, to do so. There's no point in campaigning actively, by that point in time," Toomast said.
Isamaa, on the other hand, said it would continue its campaigning with the same momentum through to polling day, and to be visible on March 5 too.
Isamaa MP and candidate Raivo Tamm said: "It's actually really nice to be here. People are praising and thanking us, and pledging their vote, so you can really see how it is going forward."
Parempoolsed is contesting its first election. Party leader Lavly Perling was on the spot, and told AK that competing with the larger and more established parties was tough.
"We really hope that it's not the case that those election posters pasted up around the city, or paint defacing some political party's poster, are what prompts people to make their choices, but instead the internal voice of reason."
Center Party candidate and former culture minister Tiit Terik said the public have in fact become more, not less, interested in politics.
He said: "People have been quite actively involved in these discussions, and it seems that they are not indifferent to what the next composition of the Riigikogu might be, and what decisions will be made there."
The Social Democrats (SDE) representative said they had noticed that too.
Külli Urb said: "We get asked a lot about welfare reform, then pensions, and people are also asking where the money will be coming from."
Mart Kallas, running for the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) said that more face-to-face meetings with potential voters still lie in the future.
"Let's say that the faith still remains, and that we will win," he said.
Another change from 2019 means the e-vote and paper vote results will be announced at the same time, as one figure, on the evening of March 5. Previously, the e-vote result had been announced separately, several hours before the final tally.
The State Electoral Office's own page in English is here.
This article was updated to reflect the passage of time, the growing number of votes cast, and the fact that all polling stations open on the Friday and Saturday, with figures for advance voting so far included.
Editor: Andrew Whyte