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Voters go to polls armed with mobile phones

(Keystone)

The first ever SMS vote is taking place in Switzerland with the residents of Bülach using mobile phone text messages to decide on speed restrictions in the town.

The Bülach vote will be followed by similar ballots in two other communities, after which the federal authorities will decide whether to roll out text voting throughout the country.

The residents of Bülach in canton Zurich are casting text, internet, postal and ballot box votes on proposals to introduce a 30kmph speed restriction for vehicles. The result will be known on October 30.

The pilot project will then be extended to Schlieren and Bertschikon, also in canton Zurich, on November 27, when the issues of shop opening hours, GM crops and integration courses will be put to a ballot.

Project leader, David Knöri of canton Zurich's Office for Statistics, told swissinfo that SMS voting will bring Swiss voting technology into the 21st century, following a successful internet voting trial in Aniéres, canton Geneva, in January 2003.

"Switzerland has fallen behind in this area, but this is a step in the right direction," he said. "We want to offer people the full range of telecommunications options and make it easier for disabled people to vote."

Voting habits

Knöri also believes the new technology will change voting habits in Switzerland. "We forecast that particularly younger people will take advantage of e-voting, but we have seen in Bülach that many middle-aged people regularly use SMS too," he said.

"I don't necessarily think that more people will vote as a result of e-voting but I do believe that many people who used to send their votes in the post will switch to SMS."

The system has been thoroughly tested for safety and underwent a trial run during student elections at Zurich University last December.

Each user will be sent a unique user ID through the post. They also have to enter a personal code and their date of birth before they can send their vote, which is recorded to prevent repeat voting.

The new technology has been broadly welcomed by the people of Bülach, but has also been viewed with some scepticism by some of the community's older generation.

"I'm not sure yet if I will vote by text message," Kurt Klinger told Swiss television. "I'm not that used to these new electronic devices, but it's possible that I may try it."

swissinfo, Matthew Allen in Bülach

Key facts

Postal voting was introduced in Switzerland in 1994.
The first live test of internet voting took place in January 2003 in the community of Anières, canton Geneva.
The federal authorities will review the text voting experiment next spring.

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In brief

According to a survey by the weekly newspaper Coopération, 57% of Swiss voters would welcome the opportunity to vote by text or by internet in future elections.

32% of those surveyed said they were well disposed towards the idea, 25% very well disposed. However, 23% were not in favour of the project while 17% were hostile to it. 3% did not have an opinion.

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