E-voting in Switzerland: Solid past practice and a rigorous future to come

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Switzerland e-Voting

The Swiss e-voting experience goes far back. In 2000, the Swiss Confederate Government invited interested cantons to develop their e-voting systems with federal support. The long-term objective being to enable Swiss citizens to opt for an online vote, in parallel with postal voting and voting in polling stations. Three cantons came forward: Geneva, Neuchâtel and Zurich, whose e-voting experience has been well documented and provides a whole set of best practices. Given the diversity of 26 cantonal laws and political procedures, a single system couldn’t have been implemented in all cantonal contexts.

Swiss democracy is as direct as it gets. Voter participation and active citizenship are the core elements to the political existence of any Swiss canton. Voters are provided with four to six ballots a year. These are a combination of federal, cantonal or municipal, and focus on topics that range from choosing a representative or participating in decision making via a referendum ballot.

A good set of complementary factors supported the introduction of internet voting. Postal voting had already been successfully introduced with a positive impact on turnout. As such, it paved the way for an additional remote voting channel such as internet voting given the high level of Internet penetration and high support for Internet voting, measured through public opinion surveys. The combination of various factors made Switzerland and excellent test scenario for the implementation of internet voting: 10% of Swiss citizens live outside the country, only 2% were registered to vote from abroad, low turnout among Swiss voters under the age of 40 and the country´s political and technological status.

Internet voting is managed at the federal level for federal ballots, while cantons are autonomous when it comes to cantonal or municipal ballots. The canton of Geneva developed an in-house internet voting system. Neuchâtel and Zurich contracted private e-voting companies, Scytl and Unysis respectively. Given that the first internet voting pilots go back to 2004, Swiss e-voting is by now legally framed and established and is no longer considered to be at pilot level. In Switzerland the aim now is scalability and continuous improvement of the e-voting systems in place. To that effect the Confederate Government has recently issued a new set of guidelines  that cantons and technology providers have to align with, many changes already being implemented as of 2014, taking Swiss internet voting at the state of the art level.

The cantons approach to compliance with the new guidelines will be presented at the Swiss e-Voting Workshop on September 5, 2014 in Grossratsgebäude, Aarauthe.