Geneva gives boost to national e-voting scheme

In all, 11 electronic ballots have been held in canton Geneva Keystone

The introduction of electronic voting for all Swiss citizens has been given a boost after canton Geneva moved to enshrine e-voting in its constitution.

This content was published on February 10, 2009 - 17:00

The Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA), 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.

With more than 70 per cent in favour, voters in Geneva decided on Sunday to formally enshrine electronic voting in the constitution – making it the first of Switzerland's 26 cantons to do so.

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

Local government officials said the result showed 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.

OSA President Jacques-Simon Eggly is delighted by Sunday's vote.

"Geneva is a driving force in terms of e-voting and capable of pulling the rest of Switzerland along with it. Discussions are currently underway for Geneva to handle canton Basel City's e-voting register," he told swissinfo.

Several cantons are particularly interested in the possibility of storing their computerised electoral lists of Swiss abroad in Geneva, Neuchâtel and Zurich - pioneering e-voting cantons.

Cantons Basel City, Lucerne, Graubünden, Obwalden, Nidwalden and Aargau have already contacted Geneva for support with e-voting.

Next steps

Geneva is likely to become the first canton to introduce e-voting on a permanent basis, but before it can the local parliament has to adopt the necessary legislation.

"Before drawing up the law, several Geneva communes are going to retest the e-voting system during a vote in May," said Eggly.

"Even if the law is adopted it could still be subject to a referendum and it needs federal approval. But once these hurdles are cleared, e-voting can then become part of the general voting procedure in Geneva, including for its citizens living abroad," he added.

The Council of the Swiss Abroad, a senior body within the OSA, approved a resolution in August 2008 calling for all Swiss abroad to be able to cast their ballot in the 2011 federal elections via e-voting.

"But everything points towards this deadline not being kept. We hope that by 2015 at the latest this voting system will be available for expatriates," said Eggly.

Security issues

Voters in Geneva largely ignored data protection concerns raised by e-voting opponents.

"We heard the same kind of criticism when postal voting was introduced. We shouldn't forget that the e-voting pilot project phases have gone very well in each of the three cantons," said Eggly.

But IT security expert Stéphane Koch is more cautious.

"The issue of security will not go away; this question will never be fully resolved. The internet is constantly evolving," he warned.

The motion adopted by Geneva on Sunday includes safety measures, such as the setting up of a monitoring commission comprising members from all political parties.

"The success will depend on the competences of those people appointed and the scope of action that the commission enjoys," noted Koch.

Eggly underlined the fact that Switzerland is not alone and, elsewhere, Estonia has already adopted and introduced e-voting for its citizens.

"But Estonia has a very developed internet culture. For example it has introduced an electronic ID card which allows people to validate their electronic vote," said Koch.

Despite being extremely advanced in this respect, in April 2007 the websites of numerous Estonian organisations, including the Estonian parliament, banks, ministries, newspapers and broadcasters were paralysed for two days by a series of cyber attacks, he added.

swissinfo, Frédéric Burnand in Geneva


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).

The federal authorities have approved trials with e-voting in three of the country's 26 cantons, including Geneva.

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.

On a national level the authorities are planning further tests until 2011 with up to ten per cent of the electorate.

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