Swiss expatriates keen on e-voting

Many Swiss abroad would like to vote electronically to avoid delayed mail deliveries Keystone Archive

Despite the potential popularity of a plan for voting by electronic mail, it received a setback after the government decided not to rush the project.

This content was published on January 10, 2002 minutes

The Organisation for the Swiss Abroad has expressed disappointment about Wednesday's cabinet decision. But the head of the organisation, Rudolf Wyder, said he understood the concerns presented by e-voting.

"There are technical difficulties to be solved, it is relatively costly and there is the problem of security of the votes, which have to tackled."

But he said he was confident that e-voting will be introduced sooner or later. The Organisation for the Swiss Abroad would continue to promote e-voting, he added.

Wyder said many Swiss expatriates were keen to know what is going on in Swiss politics and were interested in taking part in elections and votes. "I am convinced that the number of Swiss voters from abroad will increase, if they can vote via computer and electronic mail", Wyder told swissinfo.

Under the current system citizens either have to go to a ballot box or they can send their vote via post. But many Swiss expatriates have been critical of the current system, saying they do not receive their ballot papers in time to take part in votes and elections, according to Wyder.

Swiss expatriates

There are nearly 600,000 Swiss expatriates around the world, but only 80,000 - or 18 per cent - have registered as voters, allowing them to use their political rights.

The right to take part in votes and elections on a federal level for Swiss expatriates was introduced in 1992. Wyder said the number of overseas voters has increased steadily since then.

Most Swiss expatriates have settled in countries of the European Union. But there are also sizeable communities of Swiss expatriates in the United States, Canada and Australia.

Security concerns

The government on Wednesday said it considered the Internet a valuable technical system which could make it easier for Swiss expatriates, but also for physically disabled people to take part in elections and votes.

However, the government said several problems, including security and electronic signatures, needed to be resolved before e-voting can be introduced on a federal level. Experts say such a step is not expected before 2010.

The cabinet also said the new method could affect the current system and old traditions of direct democracy, as well as create a digital divide between citizens.

The government added that e-voting could one day be an addition to the traditional methods. It also expressed scepticism on whether e-voting would increase voter turnout.

Switzerland has been at the forefront of countries to introduce e-voting and facilitate access to public services for citizens.

Projects for e-voting are underway on a cantonal level in Zurich, Geneva and Neuchâtel. Geneva has already carried out a first trial, but it put off a plan to officially introduce e-voting later this year.

by Urs Geiser

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