Zurich e-voting system wins UN award

Fingertip voting: an innovative Zurich system has won a UN award for political participation Keystone

Canton Zurich's electronic ballot system aimed at attracting more voters has won a United Nations Public Service Award.

This content was published on June 26, 2007 - 17:08

The innovative pilot project was launched in 2002 in cooperation with the government and cantons Geneva and Neuchâtel, and was completed last year.

The UN awards were presented in Vienna on Tuesday during the seventh Global Forum on Reinventing Government. The Swiss won their award in the category for "fostering participation in policy-making decisions through innovative mechanisms".

The Zurich e-voting system, which beat off competition from Geneva and Italy, is ready to use and enables people to cast their votes in elections or votes from home or when travelling. The authorities hope that participation will increase.

Markus Notter from the Zurich cantonal government picked up the award, which was presented "for an excellent performance on behalf of the public interest".

"We are very pleased at this appreciation of our efforts," Notter told swissinfo.

"Technology is developing in a way that is not only about the internet but mobile phones and other forms – it is very flexible. In any country with a telecommunications network technology can help open democracy."

"Deluxe solution"

Giampiero Beroggi from the Zurich School of Economics described the scheme, for which he is responsible, as a "deluxe solution" with three distinct advantages.

"First of all it can cope with entries not only from the internet but also from mobile phones via SMS or interactive televisions," he told swissinfo.

"Second, it is adaptable – that means we can use it with other cantons, organisations or countries as we like."

For example the student council elections at Zurich University will constitute another test for this system.

The third advantage is the integration of cantons with decentralised voting registers such as Bern or Zurich. There, communes run the resident and voting registers.

"Our system gathers the voting data of those eligible to vote in all 171 Zurich communes," Beroggi said.

The government has for the time being imposed a limit on e-voting – a maximum of ten per cent of voters can cast their ballot electronically. The thinking is that should something go wrong with the e-voting, this percentage would not affect the final outcome too strongly.

"This ten per cent limit will certainly remain in force for another three or four years," said Beroggi. "After this is lifted, other cantons will definitely offer a similar service."

Swiss abroad

Swiss living abroad are particularly vocal supporters of e-voting.

In May the Council of the Swiss Abroad called for expatriates to be able to cast their votes electronically – by the 2011 federal elections at the latest.

The request was made at the spring meeting of the governing body of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) in Bern, which focused on political participation.

For the OSA, e-government is "an effective way for residents living far from Switzerland to keep in direct contact with their administration".

It has asked that efforts be stepped up and harmonised in Swiss consulates and embassies throughout the world.


In brief

The United Nations Public Service Awards is the most prestigious international recognition of excellence in public service.

It rewards the creative achievements and contributions of public service institutions to a more effective and responsive public administration in countries worldwide.

Through an annual competition, the UN Public Service Awards promotes the role, professionalism and visibility of public service.

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Key facts

1994: Postal voting introduced in Switzerland.
2003: First live test of internet voting in local poll in Anières near Geneva.
2005: First SMS vote in local poll in Bülach near Zürich.

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