Thursday, July 18, 2019

Switzerland cancels online voting pilot

The Swiss government has suspended the use of online voting just months ahead of this year’ October parliamentary elections. The reason: technical flaws in the two e-voting systems currently in use.

Following a cross-party campaign, critics have announced they will be proposing a five-year moratorium on e-voting trials. The setback is concerning. Stalling technology development could prove detrimental to election participation, as many voters had grown accustomed to the convenience of online voting.

Even though the Swiss Federal Council has been a champion of e-voting, and has trialed remote electronic polling across multiple cantons for the past fifteen years, the deferral should not come as a surprise.

A similar situation occurred back in 2015, when the Swiss government decided to deny access to e-voting technology in nine cantons before the parliamentary polls.

The e-voting context is relevant

·      Only about 2% of Swiss voters cast their ballots online. The Federal Council proposed (2018) to make e-voting a third regular voting channel, alongside in-person and postal votes.
·      While the Council has suggested that two-thirds of cantons should offer it, opponents launched a people's initiative asking for a 5-year moratorium on e-voting and ongoing trials.
·      Over 90% of voters in Switzerland vote by mail. A more common voting option than in most countries around the world. Public trust in the postal service and other voting providers is usually at high levels.
·      A technical flaw concerning universal verifiability was discovered in the e-voting system that the postal service planned to roll out in four cantons for this year’s parliamentary elections.
·      Swiss Post acknowledged that the error in the source code had already been identified in 2017, and pledged to develop a new, updated version available from 2020. Regretfully, the correction was not fully implemented by the technology provider.
·      The government and the cantonal authorities are currently evaluating possible ways to move forward.

Affected audiences

The government resolution to drop online voting directly affects the expatriate community. The Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) has requested the government to reconsider the decision and has taken a leading role in the introduction of electronic voting.

Over 180,000 Swiss expatriates are eligible to take part in votes. They usually vote by post, but the organization has denounced that the envelopes often arrive too late, violating their right to fully participate in the elections. Remo Gysin, OSA President, has called for online voting to be made available for all Swiss expatriates by 2021.

On the other hand, other stakeholders affected by the decision are the cantons which were subscribed e-voting. For instance, Fribourg, Neuch√Ętel, and Thurgau will seek compensation after spending money on making the system ready to voters in the October elections.