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E-voting "milestone" heartens Swiss abroad


Swiss from canton Basel City who no longer live in Switzerland could be able to vote online for the first time in a nationwide ballot on November 29.

The Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA), which has been pushing for e-voting for years, now hopes the concept will receive extra momentum.

E-voters from Basel actually have Geneva to thank for this technological advance in democracy. On Monday the canton of Basel City signed – with the government's blessing – a contract with Geneva agreeing to the use of that canton's electronic voting system.

If the government approves the scheme, the 6,000 or so Basel City voters living abroad could have their say electronically in the controversial initiative to ban the construction of minarets in Switzerland at the end of the year.

"I expect this agreement will act as a signal to other cantons," Rudolf Wyder, director of the OSA, told on Monday.

Trials with online voting have taken place since 2003 in the Geneva region, as well as in cantons Neuchâtel, Basel City and Zurich.

The introduction of electronic voting for all Swiss citizens was given a boost in February when more than 70 per cent of voters in Geneva decided formally to enshrine electronic voting in the constitution, making it the first of Switzerland's 26 cantons to do so.

Local government officials said at the time the result reflected the popular support for e-voting, which will be introduced in 2010. Citizens in Geneva will be able to take part in cantonal and local ballots online instead of going to the polls or posting their ballot sheet.


On Monday the head of the Federal Chancellery, whose department is responsible for coordinating the introduction of e-voting, said she had encouraged the cantons to sign the so-called contract for accommodation with one of the three cantons that had prior experience with online voting.

"It is left to the cantons whether they sign a contract with Geneva, Neuchâtel or Zurich – but it is our plan that cantons look back at the work of other cantons," Corina Casanova told

"The pilot project with Basel and Geneva is a milestone."

The Federal Chancellery is the staff office of the Swiss government. Its tasks include informing the public about government activities and coordinating votes and elections at federal level.

Slow progress

Switzerland is at the forefront of efforts to introduce electronic voting and e-government in Europe. But progress is slow because of the country's federalist political system and multilingualism, and because of politicians who fear they could lose out.

The Organisation of the Swiss Abroad, representing about 700,000 Swiss expatriates, hopes that e-voting will be available to all Swiss – at home and abroad – by 2015 at the latest.

The OSA has been pushing for e-voting for years, saying the present situation is untenable as ballot papers often arrive late or are sent in the wrong language version.

The federal authorities have said it cannot be hastily introduced in a country divided into 26 cantons and more than 2,700 local authorities, all of which organise and administer ballots. and agencies (with input from Andreas Keiser)

Key facts

At the end of 2007 there were 668,107 registered Swiss living abroad – an increase of 3.6% on 2006.
Almost a third of them are based in European Union member countries, mainly France, Germany, and Italy.
The largest community of Swiss expatriates outside Europe is in the US. Considerable numbers of Swiss abroad also live in Canada, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Israel and South Africa.

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In brief

The Council of the Swiss Abroad is made up of 160 representatives of the expatriate community and of public life in Switzerland.

The assembly, which meets twice a year, is the senior body of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA).

This year's congress, taking place in Fribourg from August 22-24, focuses on relations with the EU, notably the continuation and extension of the labour accord with Brussels.

High on the agenda of the council meeting are e-voting and planned budget cuts for the bi-monthly Swiss Review magazine.

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Around 80% of Swiss expatriates registered to vote have access to the internet.

Postal voting was introduced in 1992 and the introduction of electronic voting is scheduled for 2015, according to the Federal Chancellery.

The introduction of e-voting is expected to require an investment of up to SFr600 million ($548.5 million). Trials have been launched in three of the country's 26 cantons with the approval of the federal authorities.

Swiss expatriate voters hailing from canton Neuchâtel were part of a trial last June. A similar test is planned for those from canton Basel-City next year.

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