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101 members of the Riigikogu are elected at free elections on the basis of the principle of proportionality. The elections are general, uniform and direct, and take place on the first Sunday of March of every fourth year. Depending on the number of votes received, it is possible to become a member of the Riigikogu with a personal mandate, a district mandate or a compensation mandate. Voting is secret, and there are 14 different ways of voting, including electronic voting (e-voting).

What are the principles of the right to vote?

According to § 60 of the Constitution (in Estonian), the elections of the Riigikogu are:

  • Free elections, which means that voters have the right to vote without pressure, according to their will. All citizens with the right to vote can participate in the elections. All Estonian citizens who have attained 21 years of age by the last day for the registration of candidates have the right to stand as candidates.
  • General elections, which means that all adult citizens who have full legal capacity are expected to participate in the elections. It is forbidden to establish disproportional electoral censuses.
  • Uniform elections, which means that each voter has one vote. All votes given at the election have equal weight. All candidates must be guaranteed equal conditions at the elections. For example, granted equal air time for introducing their views in national public broadcasting channels.
  • Direct elections, which means that the election results are ascertained on the basis of the desire expressed by of the voters who participated in the elections, and not proceeding from a decision made by an electoral college or some other electoral body.
  • Secret ballot, which means that, in order to ensure the secrecy of voting, in Estonia, voting is usually conducted in ballot booths where the voter can fill in the ballot paper alone. It is also possible to vote at home. The secrecy of electronic voting is guaranteed by the possibility to change the vote. Voters who have been illegally influenced or watched in the course of electronic voting can change their votes later by voting again either electronically or with a ballot paper.

Who have the right to vote and be elected?

All Estonian citizens with full active legal capacity who have attained 18 years of age and are not serving a prison sentence have the right to vote. The conditions for standing as a candidate are the same, only the age limit is 21 years.

Political parties as well as independent candidates can participate in elections. A political party can nominate candidates in 12 electoral districts. Political parties prepare national lists of the candidates nominated in all electoral districts.

How are election results ascertained?

The election results are ascertained on the basis of the principle of proportionality. The number of seats allocated to a political party in the Riigikogu corresponds to the total number of votes cast for the candidates of the party at the elections – the greater the number of votes, the more seats.

First, the election results are ascertained at the level of electoral districts, where personal mandates and district mandates are distributed. The national compensation mandates are distributed only after that. There are 101 mandates altogether – that is, as many as there are seats in the Riigikogu – and these are distributed between 12 electoral districts.

How are mandates distributed?

  • First, it is ascertained who have received personal mandates. For that, the number of the persons who voted in an electoral district is divided by the number of mandates. The result is the simple quota of the district. A candidate who receives the number of votes that equals the simple quota or exceeds it is elected with a personal mandate.
  • Only the political parties that receive at least 5 per cent of the valid votes nationally, i.e. cross the election threshold, participate in the distribution of district mandates. The votes cast for the candidates of a party at the district level are added up and the total is compared to the simple quota. The party receives as many district mandates as many times the number of the votes summed up exceeds the simple quota. If a party has already received personal mandates in a district, these are subtracted from the number of district mandates.
    In the district lists of political parties, candidates are ranked according to the votes received. The candidate who received the greatest number of votes is elected, but the number of votes must be at least 10 per cent of the simple quota.
  • Compensation mandates are ascertained after the district mandates have been distributed. For that, the undistributed mandates are distributed nationally, using the modified d’Hondt distribution method. The method named after the Belgian mathematician allows distributing the mandates among the lists as proportionally as possible, meaning that even the political parties who received less votes can get mandates. Only the political parties that crossed the election threshold participate in the distribution of compensation mandates.

You can find more detailed information on the elections on the home page of the Elections in Estonia.

What is the d’Hondt method like?

The distribution of compensation mandates according to the modified d’Hondt distribution method that is used at the Riigikogu elections gives a small advantage to the parties that have received more votes.

D’Hondt distribution series runs as 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. A slightly altered distribution series is used in Estonia, where the elements of the series from 2 onwards are raised to the power of 0.9. The values of such a series are 1,000, 1,866, 2,688, 3,482, etc.

When distributing mandates on the D’Hondt distribution method, comparative figures are first calculated for each political party, and the number of comparative figures corresponds to the number of candidates on the party list. The comparative figures are obtained when the number of votes for a party is divided by every element of the distribution series.

Then the comparative figures of the parties are compared, and the party whose comparative figure is the highest is the first to get the mandate. The next mandate goes to the party with the second highest comparative figure, etc. In such a way all undistributed mandates are distributed.

There was political campaigning already before the elections of the Constituent Assembly

Run-up to the elections of the Constituent Assembly – propaganda posters in Tallinn. Laaman, Eduard. Eesti iseseisvuse sünd (Birth of Estonia's Independence). Tallinn, 1936, p. 4.


Last updated: 21.09.2023