Thursday, April 16, 2015

Swiss abroad push for electronic voting

Switzerland is consistently ranked as one of the most desirable places to live in the world, with cities like Zurich and Geneva topping many international lists. Switzerland is one of the richest countries in the world on a per capita basis and it also has among the highest standards of living. The Swiss approach of “armed neutrality” means that the European country is generally very peaceful and safe as well. Even so, Switzerland is still not necessarily the most modern or technologically advanced when it comes to its modern day democracy.

There are a number of Swiss citizens who are living or working abroad, and they are just as deserving to the right of suffrage as their counterparts who live in Switzerland itself. However, access to the democratic process is still quite limited and this is why the Council of the Swiss Abroad are rallying behind the promotion of electronic voting for Swiss expatriates.

The expatriate community is represented by the Council of the Swiss Abroad and at the council's regular meeting in Bern in March, all of the over 120 representatives approved a new 8-point manifesto on the future of elections in Switzerland, particularly as it pertains to voting access for Swiss who are living or working abroad. The approval by the council was unanimous, emphasizing how important it is that expatriates can still participate in the Swiss political process and have their voice heard.

As Organization of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) president Jacques-Simon Eggly indicated at the meeting, this is a critical element in keeping the democratic system alive, transparent, and representative in the country. The OSA is pushing for expatriates to have the ability to elect officials into both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Approximately 10% of the Swiss population live abroad, numbering over 700,000 in total, and this number continues to grow. Most live in neighbouring European nations (462,000), like France, Germany and Italy, followed by the Americas (181,000), Asia (50,000), Oceania (31,000), and Africa (21,000).

However, only 142,000 expatriates globally are currently registered and eligible to take part in votes and elections. Three electronic voting systems have been tested in 14 of the country's 26 cantons, but this means that citizens from the country's other 12 cantons do not have access to the Swiss Abroad e-voting platform. A big part of the problem is that many Swiss expatriates have been denied the possibility of having an account in Switzerland. This leads to problems related to pension payments, for example, as well as access to voting rights. 

Among many other reasons, this is why Swiss Abroad is pushing for the rapid and widespread introduction of a better e-voting system that would empower expatriates with the ability to participate in the democratic process. The tests in 14 of the country's cantons demonstrate a strong interest in e-voting among the expatriate community. This echoes similar sentiments expressed in other international democracies like those in India and demonstrated in Brazil.

Understandably, the Swiss government would not want to rush into the full widespread deployment of a brand new e-voting system and further investigations into the matter are clearly required. As Barbara Perriard of the Federal Chancellery indicates, “Security comes before speed.” Transparency, reliability and the sanctity of the secret ballot must be maintained. 

"All Swiss expatriates," said Jacques-Simon Eggly, "have to be able to have access to e-voting to use their political rights." Given the strong and proud banking tradition of Swotzerland and its high standards forsecurity and privacy, the development of a secure and reliable e-voting paradigm for expatriates should be a top priority.