Russia, Belarus residents in Estonia vote ban affects almost 69,000 people

An electoral ballot box in Estonia.
An electoral ballot box in Estonia. Source: Aili Vahtla/ERR

At the initiative of Minister of Justice Kalle Laanet (Reform), though not via a draft prepared by Ministry of Justice staff, the right to vote in local elections in Estonia would be stripped from citizens of a foreign country recognized as an aggressor state.

Taking this to refer to citizens of the Russian Federation and its ally, Belarus, there are close to 69,000 such people resident in Estonia at present.

Voter data is held on the state population register (Rahvastikuregister). 

As of May 17, 67,774 citizens of the Russian Federation, plus 1,052 citizens of Belarus ,were registered as persons entitled to vote, ie. permanent residents, in the register.

This means the proposed amendment to the law would currently affect approximately 69,000 voters, across Estonia's 79 municipalities.

Voter turnout among Russian citizen voters is, however, lower than the average turnout at such elections, ERR reports.

For instance, while the overall turnout for the last local government elections in Estonia, in October 2021, stood at 54.7 percent, the turnout for citizens of the Russian Federation was 42.5 percent, while the figure for citizens of Belarus came to 49.5 percent.

The number of Russian citizens registered as persons entitled to vote in Estonia has decreased by a few thousand people after the 2021 local elections.

Those percentages refer to the total eligible to vote; since the October 2021 elections, the number of Russian citizens registered as entitled to vote has also fallen in absolute terms, by a few thousand people.

This demographic also made up slightly more than half of the total number of persons with third-country citizenship in Estonia but who were entitled to vote, ie. who were permanent residents, at 70,446, out of a total of 139,281 (as noted the number of Russian citizens currently allowed to vote in local elections is 67,774).

"Third country" is a loosely defined term mainly meaning non-EU/non-EEA citizens. While able to vote in local elections if permanently resident in Estonia, they are not permitted to vote in EU elections (open to citizens of the EU27) or general elections (open to Estonian citizens only).

After Russian Federation citizens, the most significant countries in terms of numbers of eligible third country voters were Ukraine, Belarus and, now, the U.K.

Additionally, persons with indeterminate citizenship (the term preferred by, for instance, Reform MEP Urmas Paet), also referred to as stateless persons (the preferred term for Center MEP Yana Toom) – meaning people who do not hold the citizenship of any country – who are resident in Estonia are also eligible to vote.

These numbered 62,585 at the October 2021 election – again turnout would have been substantially lower.

Of the Russian citizens permanently resident in Estonia, 29,959, or 42.5 percent, actually went to vote at the 2021 election

For Belarusian citizens resident in Estonia, the total was 528 (49.5 percent turnout).

In other words, just over 30,000 Russian and Belarusian citizens in Estonia actually voted at the October 2021 local elections.

Since the total number of Russian citizens resident in Estonia continues to fall, having already dropped by several thousand people since October 2021, by the time the next local elections are held in fall 2025, this means a maximum of around the same figure, 30,000, of votes cast – even if turnout were to rise for some reason – would be missing from the total, if the ban takes effect.

With a turnout of 584,901 in October 2021, losing 30,000 votes would represent just over 5 percent of the total no longer voting.

By comparison, 1,584 citizens of Ukraine resident in Estonia, 42.8 percent of the total (at that time, prior to the February 2022 invasion – ed.) voted in the 2021 local elections.

Turnout among British citizens registered permanently resident in Estonia was considerably more paltry at 30.6 percent

24,801 or 39.6 percent of voters with undefined citizenship (see above) voted.

Of the total number of 139,281 persons other holding third-country citizenship or holding no citizenship, 57,347, or 41.2 percent, exercised the right to vote in the 2021 local elections.

For more on voter turnout at the 2021 local elections, see this guide which ERR News put together at the time.


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Editor: Urmet Kook, Andrew Whyte

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