Online voting in Switzerland: Neuchatel leads the way

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Switzerland online voting Neutchatel

The canton of Neuchatel, along with Geneva and Zurich, has been one of the pioneers in the introduction of online voting in Switzerland. The first online voting deployment in Neuchatel took place on September 25, 2005 when 1,178 citizens had the opportunity to vote online. Online voting is provided through the Guichet Unique, a unified eGovernment and eDemocracy platform for all the eServices provided to the citizens of Neuchatel by their cantonal government.

Neuchatel contracted Scytl at a very early stage; its secure online voting software was integrated in the Guichet Unique platform. Between 2005 and 2014 this online voting module has been deployed in 6 electoral events and during that time voter participation has increased by 238%. The canton of Neuchatel also uses the same module to allow voters to electronically participate in referendums and communal, cantonal and federal initiatives. Within the last 9 years there have been 28 deployments of various referendums with a registered 420% increase in citizen participation. It goes without saying that the introduction of online voting has certainly supported citizen engagement in this case.

To achieve voter authentication, the cantonal government provides a list of registers voters who should receive a voting card containing username and password. When these are entered in the relative Guichet Unique web page, a further code is sent out to the voter via an sms message and authentication is complete after this last code is successfully received and also entered by the voter. Voters can use any internet enabled device of their choice, desktop, laptop, mobile or tablet and the majority of web browsers are also supported. End to end cryptography is used to protect the integrity and the secrecy of the vote when the ballot is cast. Additionally voters are provided with a digitally signed voting receipt containing a random identifier validated by the online voting servers. This receipt allows voters to check whether their vote has reached the digital ballot box.

Neuchatel is further investing in an online voting system that has served its electorate well over the last years. They have every reason to do so, given the increase in voter participation. Following the new Swiss Confederate Government directives, Neuchatel in collaboration with Scytl are preparing to take their system several steps ahead. JavaScript clients will replace the relevant libraries, while El Gamal verifiable cryptography is also being integrated. This will provide voters with“cast as intended” verification without the system ever acquiring knowledge of the encrypted ballots’ content, thus protecting voters’ secrecy. El Gamal cryptography also provides mathematical verification of the digital ballot box, while the source code will be made available to allow external expert scrutiny. All these new elements are planned to become available in 2015. All the chages will ensure not only the security of the Neutchatel online voting process, but also both individual and universal verifiability. We will therefore have to revisit the Neuchatel case study in the near future to remain on the edge of online voting evolution.