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Swiss Abroad Congress E-voting wins ground despite risks and setbacks

Interior Minister Berset addressed the more than 300 participants at the Congress of the Swiss Abroad 

(Philipp Zinniker/OSA)

The majority of registered Swiss expatriates will be able to use electronic voting in next year’s parliamentary elections, but the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) failed to win access to e-vote for the whole diaspora.

Swiss expats registered in 14 of the country’s 26 cantons will be able to participate in the 2015 elections to the House of Representatives. In 12 cantons they can also help choose the members of the Senate.

“139 of the 200 seat in house will be affected,” says Thomas Kalau, a senior official in the foreign ministry.

The result falls short set by the OSA to ensure that all the registered 155,000 Swiss expatriates can take part.

OSA President Jacques-Simon Eggly deplores the fact that the aim was only partially met.

“Without our efforts even fewer expats would be able to use e-voting,” he says. At the last elections in 2011 only four cantons had introduced e-voting for their expatriates as part of ongoing trials with the technology.

Eggly was speaking on the sidelines of the Congress of the Swiss Abroad in Baden on Saturday.

The introduction of e-voting suffered a setback last year when technical loopholes were found. Security concerns, including attacks by hackers and verification issues, prompted some cantonal authorities temporarily suspended their efforts.

Keynote speakers and discussion panels at the two-day annual event focused on hopes and risks of information technology for the expatriate community.

Business before politics

Otfried Jarren, professor for mass communication and media at Zurich University, highlighted the impact of social media on the system of national democracies.

“Globalisation is not only an important economic phenomenon, digitalisation has also become cultural and communication issues,” he told the more than 300 participants at the congress.

Jarren also pointed out that most social media and the internet as such are primarily designed to serve commercial interests.

“These techniques are by no means aimed at political participation. Neither the internet nor social media platforms turn people into citizens with a political awareness.”


Anja Wyden Guelpa, chancellor of canton Geneva, says the introduction of e-voting has not led to higher turnout in votes. But nor was this the case with the gradual introduction of vote by conventional mail in Swiss cantons since the 1990s.

“Maybe if one day everybody will have the possibility to use e-voting it will boost participation in votes. But researchers say it will take at least a generation.”

Wyden Guelpa does not believe that e-voting will change the political opinion of citizens, because they might be tempted to express their views more spontaneously.

Geneva is one of the pioneering cantons in Switzerland to develop an internet voting application.

Outside perspective

In his speech, Interior Minister Alain Berset underlined the role of Swiss diaspora as a dynamic and innovative community.

He praised them as people who not only understand the world better than many Swiss residents, but who, in some cases, have even a better understanding for Switzerland because they look from a certain distance at the country.

Berset gave an example of his use of the social media, publishing the picture below on his twitter account. It shows the OSA President Eggly in front of the audience in Baden.  

Berset tweets from Baden

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The annual Congress of the Swiss Abroad came after a meeting of the Council of the Swiss Abroad on Friday.

The assembly called on the government and parliament to grant all expats a right to have an account with a Swiss bank. It also adopted a resolution insisting the mandatory registration of Swiss expatriates is enshrined in law. 

Swiss diaspora

Nearly 732,000 Swiss citizens live abroad according to official data from December 2013.

Most of them are registered in neighbouring countries France, Germany and Italy.

There is also large Swiss community in North America.

Some 155,000 Swiss expats have registered to take part in nationwide votes and in elections in Switzerland.

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