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Swiss test online ballot in nationwide vote

(Keystone)

The world’s first nationwide vote to take place over the internet passed off smoothly on Sunday, according to the Swiss authorities.

Citizens in four communities in canton Geneva were given the option of voting online in a federal ballot, and nearly 22 per cent took up the opportunity.

Of the 22,000 voters in Anières, Cologny, Carouge and Meyrin, 2,723 chose to cast their votes online in four ballots on easing citizenship, introducing statutory maternity benefits nationwide, and preventing the closure of some 800 state-owned post offices.

“The success of this first pilot in the framework of a federal ballot is an important milestone for remote electronic voting in Switzerland,” said Annemarie Huber-Hotz, head of Switzerland's federal chancellory.

Although the communities make up less than one per cent of the Swiss electorate, the authorities say the fact that the online vote passed off without a hitch proves that it could become a third option for voters, alongside postal ballots and polling stations.

Virtual ballot box

It took 13 minutes and five seconds to count the contents of the “virtual ballot box”, said cantonal officials.

The Swiss authorities decided to organise the internet vote following a string of successful local online polls in Geneva and other cities.

Postal votes are the most popular choice in Switzerland, accounting for more than 90 per cent of the ballot in previous referendums.

In Sunday’s vote in the e-voting communities, 72.5 per cent chose to post their votes, 22 per cent cast their ballot online, and just 5.7 per cent actually went to a polling station.

Under Switzerland's system of direct democracy, the country's 4.7 million voting-age citizens are called to vote on federal and local issues at least four times a year. Turnout is usually less than half of registered voters.

Turnout online

Turnout in the four internet-voting suburbs reached 58 percent, slightly higher than the rest of the canton, noted Geneva authorities.

Online polling has been tried before in United States primary elections and British local tax votes.

The world's first-ever binding internet vote took place in January 2003, when the 1,162 voters of the Geneva community of Anières cast their ballots in a local referendum on whether taxpayers should finance the renovation of a restaurant. Some 323 of them opted for the internet.

Geneva's e-voting system uses software developed by the local authorities, in conjunction with the Swiss office of Hewlett Packard and the Geneva-based online security firm, Wisekey.

Voting options

All 22,000 citizens of the four communities received a card from local authorities giving them the three voting options – online, postal or in person.

The card included a 16-character personal ID code and a four-character security code, much like a pin-code for an automatic teller machine.

Voters could use a regular computer to visit a special web site and type in their personal code to establish a secure connection, after which they received an online ballot form.

They then had to type in the security code, and their date and place of birth.

A single voters' register ensured individuals could vote only once, whether online, by mail or in person.

Geneva plans further internet votes in municipal and national referendums in October and November, said officials.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Voters cast their ballots on a regular computer, by visiting a special web site and typing in a personal code to establish a secure connection, after which they received an online ballot form.

They then had to type in a pin code.

A single voters' register ensured individuals could vote only once.

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