Hands Up, Baby, Hands Up

Postal votes – what a nightmare! I tried to vote in last year’s British election but was defeated by the red tape.

This content was published on October 23, 2011 minutes

Electronic voting (e-voting) must be a step in the right direction and this year, for the first time, Swiss citizens will be able to have their say online in a national election. 

That said, this privilege is limited to about 21,500 Swiss abroad registered in four cantons: Basel City, Aargau, St Gallen and Graubünden. Some 111,000 of the roughly 650,000 Swiss abroad have registered to vote.

Everyone else is automatically sent their voting lists (to be explained in a later post if I don’t drown in election results) by their commune a couple of weeks before the election. The vast majority of voters – some estimates reckon 80-90 per cent – vote by post, an option which was introduced 20 years ago. The rest trot along to the polling booth on the Saturday or Sunday until polls shut at noon on Sunday.

But in Switzerland’s smallest canton, Appenzell Inner Rhodes (in fact, it’s a half-canton with a population of just under 16,000), even postal votes are considered too high-tech. Voters there gather in the town square and choose their one senator by a show of hands (and only male hands until 1991 – that’s 1991! – when the federal court intervened!).

A polling card proves that a person is entitled to vote, but men can also present their sidearm – I’m not making this up! – and voting takes place by raising the right hand. If it’s not possible to see a clear majority among the crowd, individual votes are then counted.

The vote is normally on the last Sunday in April, but this year it was held on May 1 as Easter got in the way. Victory was handed, literally, to Ivo Bischofberger from the centre-right Christian Democrats.

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