Election Universe

A recap of Internet voting in Switzerland

September 10 2014, 16:11

Switzerland has been experimenting with Internet voting for many years. In 2000, the Swiss confederate government invited interested cantons to participate in the development of their own remote electronic voting system with federal support.

The long-term goal was to allow Swiss citizens to opt for an electronic voting system alongside voting by mail or in person at polling stations.

A recap of Internet voting in Switzerland

Three cantons were present: Geneva, Neuchâtel, and Zurich. Their experience in the use of electronic voting has been well documented and offers good guidance regarding best practices. Given the diversity of each canton’s rules and political procedures, it will be impossible to institute one single system in the same way in every canton.

Switzerland has a direct democracy. Voter participation and active citizenship are the fundamental elements of a Swiss canton’s political existence. Voters take part in anywhere from four to six elections throughout the year. These elections can be at the federal, canton, or municipal level and deal with subjects ranging from electing a representative or a referendum to make decisions regarding issues of community interest.

Several factors led to the introduction of Internet voting in this European nation. Voting by mail had already been successfully implemented and had a positive impact on voter participation. This paved the way for an additional means of distance voting such as electronic voting. Additionally, the broad reach of the Internet and vast public support found in opinion surveys strongly contributed to the adoption of I-voting.

A few reasons why it’s been a successful experience: 10 percent of Swiss citizens live outside of the country and only 2 percent registered to vote from abroad. There is a low level of participation amongst voters under the age of 40. The country’s political maturity and technological sophistication were also contributing factors.

Electronic voting is administered at the federal level for federal elections, while the cantons are autonomous when it comes to canton-wide or local elections.

The canton of Geneva has developed a system that enables people to vote from home using the Internet. Meanwhile, Neuchâtel and Zurich have contracted private electronic voting companies. The first pilot tests of electronic voting took place in 2004, so this is no longer considered a test but rather a legally acceptable means of voting.

Switzerland’s goal is now the expansion and continued improvement of electronic voting machines. The confederate government has recently published a new series of directives that the cantons and technology providers must conform to. These will come into effect this year. The participation of the cantons in complying with the new directives is of the utmost importance.