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Switzerland promotes e-voting in US


The Swiss embassy in Washington and the ThinkSwiss campaign have launched a drive to promote Swiss-style e-voting in the United States.

The series of events aimed at American experts and decision-makers began this week and, if successful, could prove to be big business for the Swiss cantons that own the systems concerned.

Bern’s man in the US, Urs Ziswiler, told swissinfo that there is a certain reluctance to accept e-voting in the States.

“The Americans are sceptical of electronic votes and there is more scepticism than in Switzerland and that’s due to problems in the States,” Ziswiler said.

The US state of Maryland decided recently to abandon e-voting and return to using ballot papers from 2010.

The state was considered advanced in its embrace of technology, a stance it had in common with another state, Georgia.

However, American scepticism has not stopped a Swiss delegation, led by the Federal Chancellor Annemarie Huber-Hotz, from extolling the virtues of e-voting in the US capital earlier this week.

“It was an opportunity to share our experiences with our American counterparts,” Huber-Hotz said.

It was also a way of exploring business opportunities as the e-voting systems being promoted belong to three cantons.

Geneva’s cantonal chancellor, Robert Hensler, confirmed this.

“Several European and Asian countries approached the canton of Geneva wanting to buy its system and one of the objectives of our Washington trip is to establish contact with potential partners,” he said.

And he was full of praise for casting votes online. “It’s the way of the future and Geneva can only profit,” Hensler said.

Pros and cons

For her part, Huber-Hotz underlined the “advantages” of the method, saying that voting is made easier, particularly as voters don’t have to go to another location.

“It could be that internet voting increases the level of participation or at least maintains it at the current level, which is 45 per cent on average,” she said.

But Huber-Hotz admitted there were also some significant disadvantages to the system.

“The big question is: how will it affect direct democracy?” she said.

“Some say that e-votes create a virtual democracy where citizens are isolated and make their choices from their own homes,” she added.

Digital divide

Security was also an issue, as was leaving those without technological know-how out of the loop.

“Some say that e-voting could create a digital divide because not everyone has access to the internet,” Huber-Hotz said.

Hensler too admits that there is a dark side.

“The costs of developing appropriate technology could be high and that could be a problematic,” he said.

In spite of potential or actual problems, the Swiss authorities still see e-voting as a “new instrument of democracy”, says Ziswiler.

“It would be a little hypocritical to want e-voting to be perfect when voting on ballot paper, whether at a polling station or by post, is not,” he said.

swissinfo, Marie-Christine Bonzom in Washington

Only five per cent of voters in Geneva canton cast their ballots at a polling station.
Out of a registered 230,000 voters, 90,000 use e-voting.
The canton decided to develop an e-voting system in 2000.

Under the slogan “brainstorm the future”, the campaign is a US-wide programme on education, research and innovation.

Academia and business leaders are encouraged to engage in a dialogue on 12 core topics.

These include global warming, e-voting and e-democracy, human rights and risk and insurance.

The institutions behind ThinkSwiss include the Swiss consulate in Boston, the Swiss State Secretariat for Education and Research and Presence Switzerland.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR