A quick guide to the local elections in Estonia for expats

Local council elections are coming up in Estonia. These are the only two elections in Estonia where non-citizens can vote. The other being the elections for the EU parliament. The Estonian president gets elected by the local parliament (unless parliament screws up, like in the last presidential elections). And the parliament gets elected by the citizens. And that pretty much sums up the elections in Estonia, since the government is assigned by the parliament.

What’s special about the local elections, apart from the fact that non-citizens can also vote, is that the local governments get a substantial part of their budgets coming directly from the resident’s income tax. That’s why it’s so important for them to get you to register yourself at the right place of residence. Your taxes fund the local districts. Tallinn controls a disproportionate amount of money when compared to the other cities in Estonia. 60% of its budget comes from your income taxes. So make sure you vote, and that you know who to vote for.

Who can vote?

Since joining the EU in 2004, Estonia has welcomed in many EU nationals to its territory. All EU citizens have the right to vote for the local elections in their place of residence and also for the EU parliament.

So, if you are an EU citizen, have registered yourself as living in Tallinn, and have a valid Estonian ID-card. You can vote.

According to a recent article by ERR News, close to 30.000 EU citizens are living in Estonia and get to vote on the local elections. The number might seem small, but as a whole it’s twice the size of Viljandi, or about the same size as some boroughs in Tallinn. And that’s nothing compared with the 180.000 non-Estonians that all can vote on local elections.

You can check the legal act concerning local elections. The relevant parts are listed here for your benefit:

§ 5. Right to vote and stand as candidate
(1) Estonian citizens and citizens of the European Union who have attained 16 years of age by election day and whose permanent residence, i.e. residence the address details of which have been entered in the Estonian population register (hereinafter population register), is located in the corresponding rural municipality or city have the right to vote

The section on non-EU citizens, or “aliens” is a bit more complex, but it boils down to this. If you have a long term residence permit or right of permanent residence, then you are allowed to vote.

We will briefly touch upon the local parties, but this fundamentally shifts some of the internal power dynamics between the electorate and the parties, since for the local elections you can also get votes from “non-Estonians”. Which is something that politicians in Tallinn often seem to forget.

How and when to vote?

Estonia is cool. We all know that. So when it comes to voting, Estonia is one of the only countries in the world that allows you to vote entirely online. No need to go somewhere and wait in line, no need to mail in your vote. You just go to a website, download an application (make sure it’s not compromised by Russian hackers by doing what every voter should do and check MD5 hashes and learning about checksums and all of that). Anyway, you download an app, you login using your Estonian ID card or your mobile ID. You navigate to the list of candidates that are running in the district where you belong. And you select one. Confirm it using your PIN2 and voilà. Voting done.

Here’s a cool video about it

The timeline for online voting starts on 5th of October and lasts until the 11th of October. After that you can only vote by going to a voting station on election day.

If you voted for someone using online voting, and then changed your mind, or are worried about your significant other using your ID card to vote for his/her candidate, or are worried about hackers, then you can always just show up on election day and use the old school paper vote.

I’ve been here for 10 years and have always voted online. I wouldn’t even know where to go to cast my paper vote.

Who to vote for?

I obviously can’t tell you who to vote for. The best would be to check each party’s website for their programs. For the sake of easiness and since the majority of the expats live in Tallinn, I’ll simplify this analysis part to the local elections in Tallinn. Apologies to the expats living in Tartu, Narva and that one guy in Rapla.

Make sure you know where you are registered, since Tallinn is split into 8 different districts. Kesklinn, Haabersti, Kristine, Lasnamäe, Mustamäe, Põhja-Tallinn, Nõmme and Pirita

Be sure to check part 2 of this article where I go through each party’s political campaign and history.

In the meantime I’m gonna leave you with this amazing line up from one of the parties.

Did they just find these at a police line up?

They say the best politicians are the ones that people would feel comfortable inviting over for dinner. Then again Keskerakond has been running the show with their own trademark of thugs and corrupt politicians… so if you can’t beat them…

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