The introduction of electronic voting for Swiss citizens is taking a step forward as ongoing trials are extended to nearly half of the country’s 26 cantons.
In the November 28 nationwide ballot, up to 190,000 citizens – 4.1 per cent of the potential electorate – can participate over cyberspace rather than casting a postal vote or going to the polling booth.
But despite pressure, notably by the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA), there is still a long way to go before e-voting is introduced at a nationwide level.
The extension of the trials from seven to 12 cantons is seen as significant progress in a process that began seven years ago with trials in canton Geneva.
For the first time canton Graubünden is taking part in the tests. As the cantonal government is keen to include the three linguistic groups of the region, not only the German, but also the Italian and Romansh-speaking communes will be part of the trial.
As such 744 Swiss expatriates registered in six municipalities will become eligible to vote over the internet.
The authorities in Graubünden say they aim to include all their 2,700 Swiss abroad by next year. But they want to wait and see what happens in the November 28 ballot.
All together expatriates from nine cantons – about 31,400 citizens – can use e-voting in this month’s vote.
Slow but sure
Moves to introduce e-voting date back to 1998 when the government approved its strategy on information and the use of communications technology.
Swift progress has been hampered by the federalist structure of the country with its three levels: nationwide, cantonal and local.
Nevertheless all the cantons have complied with a demand by the federal authorities to review legislation to standardise voter registers by the middle of 2009.
“Work is now underway to set executive regulations,” said Ardita Driza-Maurer of the Federal Chancellery.
The standardisation of the records - as a rule carried out by more than 2,600 local authorities - is a precondition for the whole Swiss expatriate community to participate in e-voting.
Strict security appears to be another stumbling block for the project to proceed beyond the test phase.
The project managers have to “act with the utmost prudence, because they have to guarantee maximum security for e-voting”, said Claude Gerbex, spokesman for the Federal Chancellery.
He says every step in the process of introducing online voting has to be monitored carefully to ensure that computer hackers cannot manipulate votes. But he acknowledges that there is no such thing as absolute security.
“Even a vote via postal mail is not 100 per cent safe,” Gerbex said. He adds that concerns about the introduction of e-voting are primarily emotional, but are not being ignored.
Opposition to e-voting has reached the political level in canton Vaud.
Jean Christophe Schwaab, a member of the local centre-left Social Democratic Party, filed a motion in the cantonal parliament last January and won the backing of parliamentarians from other parties.
They argue that e-voting has serious shortcomings: some citizens using it might not have adequate computer skills, there is an increased risk of vote tampering and vote secrecy cannot be guaranteed.
E-voting is also more expensive for taxpayers, according to the group of opponents.
They call on their government to outlaw electronic voting. The motion is to be discussed in parliament later this month.
But Schwaab explains his move is not targeted against the Swiss expatriate community.
He says it is too dangerous to put their interests above voting security. Schwaab is calling on the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad to consider alternatives which “do not jeopardise ballot security or voters confidence in the voting procedure”.
First trials with e-voting take place in communes in canton Geneva (2003) and Neuchâtel as well as Zurich (2005).
By 2010 several other cantons (Basel City, St Gallen, Solothurn, Fribourg, Aargau, Lucerne, Graubünden, Schaffhausen and Thurgau) have followed suit.
The trials, carried out with different electronic systems, are restricted to 10% of the potential electorate during the period of 2007-2011, according to the government.
The trials in selected communes of 12 cantons allow about 190,000 citizens – 4.1% of the potential electorate - to cast their vote online.
About 31,400 Swiss expatriates, registered in nine different cantons, are eligible for e-voting on November 28.
Cantons Aargau, Grabünden, Lucerne, Thurgau and Schaffhausen have joined Basel City, Fribourg, St Gallen and Solothurn for the trials, which include the Swiss abroad.
However, the expatriate community is not part of the tests in cantons Geneva, Neuchâtel and Zurich.
(Adapted from Italian by Urs Geiser) , swissinfo.ch