The introduction of e-voting for the registered Swiss expat community has received another setback after the Senate rejected a proposal to set a 2019 deadline for the cantonal authorities. The Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) is disappointed.
The OSA has called for an end to discrimination of the about 147,000 Swiss living abroad who have registered to take part in votes and elections.
“It is difficult to understand how the government gives priority to cantonal autonomy as the introduction of e-voting for the Swiss Abroad is a task of the [national] government,” says OSA co-director Ariane Rustichelli.
She says last year’s parliamentary elections are a case in point to prove that the current policy of leaving the introduction to the individual 26 cantons has been a failure.
“Registered Swiss Abroad citizens of four cantons had the right to use e-voting in 2015. This has already been the case in 2011,” she says.
The government last August ordered nine other cantons to suspend e-voting due to technical issues. As a result, only 34,000 Swiss expats were eligible to use the electronic channel, instead of 85,000 as initially planned.
Rustichelli says participation of Swiss expats is on the decline because regular mail delivery of the ballot papers is too late for many Swiss citizens living far away.
“But under the Swiss system of direct democracy every citizen has the right to take part in votes. Any form of discrimination is incompatible with our democratic system and political rights.”
Rustichellli adds that Switzerland has 12 years of experience with e-voting on a trial basis. She argues they were a success story in the 14 cantons that took part.
“It is time to tackle a new stage and aim to introduce e-voting for all Swiss Abroad citizens,” she says.
The government shares the aim of introducing e-voting swiftly, says Federal Chancellor Walter Thurnherr.
“But it is hardly possible to introduce e-voting for all Swiss expats by 2019,” he told a senate meeting on Monday.
He encouraged the cantonal authorities to choose between two e-vote systems used. However, he came out against a formal obligation by the government.
During Monday’s debate, Senator Filippo Lombardi, a Christian Democrat from Ticino and senior member of the OSA, made a passionate plea for government action.
“Applying a bit of pressure could help speed things up,” he said.
However, a slim majority of the Senate threw out his proposal. Many speakers argued the cantons must remain autonomous in the matter.
Senator Pascale Bruderer said she was undecided: “My gut feeling tells me yes, but my head says no.”
Bruderer was among two Senators who cast a blank vote, while 22 others rejected the proposal and 18 came out in favour.
Monday’s Senate decision is not the end of the story, however.
A proposal is pending in the House of Representatives similar to the motion thrown out by the Senate.
Tim Guldimann, a member of the Social Democratic Party and the only Swiss expat parliamentarian, filed his proposal in December. It is still to be tabled.
In a separate move, Nadine Masshardt has called on the government to improve the system of providing Swiss citizens overseas with the necessary ballot papers or opening polling stations at Swiss embassies and consulates.
First trials were launched for nationwide votes in Geneva in 2004. Postal voting was introduced in most cantons in the early 1990s.