5.2 Youth participation in representative democracy
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The official statistics of the Estonian National Electoral Committee about turnout and results of the voting in Estonia are not available by age-group, except for the statistics on e-voting.
The turnout of young people is described based on surveys.
- According to the study by Deželan in 2015 „Young people and democratic life in Europe: what next after the 2014 European elections?”, voter absenteeism (i.e. those who did not vote) in EU 2014 parliamentary elections for Estonia among 18-24 years old was 87,5% compared to average 60% in Estonia and 56,9% in EU. Voter absenteeism in national parliamentary elections among 18-24 years old was 62,5% compared to an average of 32.8% in Estonia and 33,6% in the EU. Deželan argues, also concerning Estonia, that several studies show corroborative results that validate the widely accepted argument that the gap between young and older voters has widened considerably across the democratic world.
- Flash Eurobarometer 375 “European Youth: Participation in Democratic Life” published in 2015 studied young EU citizens’ participation in society. Young people (15-30) were asked whether or not they have voted in a political election in the last three years. In Estonia, 44% of respondents voted, which was lower than the EU average 56%. When comparing the findings with those from 2011, Estonia showed a decrease of 18 percentage points to 44%.
- According to Toomla (2011), who compared survey data from three consecutive parliament elections in Estonia: 2003, 2007, and 2011, from all the age-groups young people between 18-30 years old, were the most passive group to participate in the voting. Even though the passive position of young people has decreased by approximately 10 percentage points over the years observed, nearly one-third of young people did not go to vote in 2011. Among the older groups under observation (31-45 and 46-60) the level is approximately two times lower. Toomla also argued that the passive position of young people is not related to the fact of how many young candidates there are.
e-voting and young people
Since the restoration of independence in August 1991, Estonia has held 20 elections at either local, national or European level. As of 2021, Estonia has held 12 elections over sixteen years, where people could cast legally binding votes over the internet i.e. e-vote. The share of people using e-voting has increased over the elections: the share of e-voters in the first e-enabled elections in 2005 was 1.9%, in local elections in 2021 46.9% of votes were cast online. During the last three elections in 2019-2021, the percentage of e-voters has increased significantly.
The amount of young voters of all e-voter has been as follows:
% of e-voters from all voters
% of 16-17-year-olds among e-voters
% of 18-24-year-olds among e-voters
% of 25-34-year-olds among e-voters
Source: Estonian National Electoral Committee
For the last four consecutive elections, 2017 local, 2019 national, 2019 European Parliament elections, and 2021 local elections e-voting is mostly used by middle-aged people, between 35–45 years old. The share of the youngest voting-eligible age segment, people between 16 to 24 years old who can vote on local elections is yet small but rising. The distribution of age among active e-voters mirrors the finding that voting online in Estonia is not the most popular option among the youngest and presumably most tech-savvy citizens.
The voting age limit for the national parliament, the European Parliament, and for the referendum is 18.
In 2015, the decision was made by two consecutive compositions of the Parliament to change the Constitution in order to lower the voting age for the local government election to 16 years old. The 16 and 17-years–old young people had the first possibility to vote at local elections that took place in October 2017. The percentage of e-voters from all voters at the age-group was 0.9%. There were 1,794 young people who gave their vote via e-voting, which is 7.4% of all the young people aged 16-17 and 0.6% of all young people in Estonia aged 7-26. The positive trend is that the second time 16-17 year old young voters' share in local elections in 2021 increased dramatically almost two times from 0,9% to 1,5%.
Persons, who have been convicted by a court and are imprisoned, cannot vote.
Most political parties in Estonia have a dedicated form for young people to participate – whether it is a substructure under the organization or a separate organization – a youth wing of the party. Youth wings have limited autonomy as budgetary and policy issues are largely relying on the party. Political parties in Estonia are registered as not-for-profit organizations. The Non-profit Associations Act defines that „if a minor of at least 15 years of age becomes a member of such youth association which complies with the provisions of the Youth Work Act, the consent of the guardian need not be submitted to the non-profit association unless otherwise provided by the articles of association.
The age limit of standing as a candidate is regulated as follows:
- National parliament: 21
- Local Government Council: 18
- European parliament: 21
To a candidate for the position of the President, the age limit is 40 (President of the Republic Election Act). There is no age limit to serve in civil service in Estonia.
There is no quota concerning the seats reserved for young people, nor are there special provisions aiming at facilitating young people standing as political candidates.
In the legal acts regulating the elections in Estonia, there is a special regulation concerning the regular member of the Defence Force, but the regulation only concerns standing as a candidate (he or she cannot stand as a candidate). There is also a regulation concerning the persons, who have been convicted by a court and is imprisoned, cannot vote and stand as a candidate.
In the last elections in 2019 of the current Riigikogu (Parliament), the youngest elected member of parliament was 25, the average age of elected members of the parliament was 49.1. Toomla has analyzed the candidate lists for parliamentary elections of major parties in Estonia and has concluded that in 2003 there were 19% of candidates under 30 in top 20 positions of the lists, in 2007 and in 2011, 7 % both years. The average age of candidates in the last European Parliament elections was 48.6.
There are no specific functions within the parliament reserved for young members.