• Notes from the Federal Palace

New ways to send voting papers?


Swiss Abroad can only vote if the relevant voting papers arrive in time. But sending voting papers is a major logistical challenge, further exacerbated by the pandemic. The federal government and three cantons are therefore looking at new ways of delivering these documents.

To find out how voting papers can best arrive on time, the 13 June 2021 popular vote coincided with a pilot project that trialled the dispatch of voting papers via diplomatic courier. A survey was also conducted at the same time. The Federal Chancellery and the Consular Directorate of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) were involved, as were three cantons – Aargau, Ticino and Geneva. The pilot project was based on a postulate by Zurich FDP National Councillor Andri Silberschmidt.

Around 1,600 Swiss Abroad in Australia, Brazil and Thailand registered to vote in the cantons of Aargau, Ticino and Geneva were invited to participate in the survey. One half received their voting papers via Swiss Post as before. On a trial basis, the other half received the documents via their local Swiss representation abroad. Everyone returned their voting papers the conventional way, i.e. directly to their home municipality in Switzerland and not via their local representation.

Some 20 per cent of voters took part in the survey. Their answers as well as the feedback provided by the authorities involved must now be collated and analysed. Comparing the two methods of dispatch will provide an insight into the effectiveness and cost of sending voting papers via diplomatic courier. Following evaluation of the results, a decision will be made on whether to conduct further trials as part of the pilot project.

The Silberschmidt postulate envisages that the Federal Council not only trial the use of diplomatic couriers in a pilot project, but also that it ascertain whether the dispatch of voting papers to Swiss Abroad for elections and popular votes at federal level should be changed in any other way. The Federal Council will assess the pilot project in detail and address the possibility of making other improvements – in the form of a postulate report by spring 2023 at the latest.  (BK)

In the bag

The bid to find new ways of sending voting papers extended to the use of diplomatic couriers in June. But what is a diplomatic courier?

Diplomatic couriers are the people who carry documents and other items between the head office of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) in Berne and Switzerland’s representations abroad. The activities of diplomatic couriers are governed by the Vienna Convention of 18 April 1961 on Diplomatic Relations, which came into force in 1964.

Diplomatic bags carry official correspondence between diplomatic representations abroad and the foreign ministry of the sending state as well as between other missions and consulates of the sending state. They enjoy inviolability and must not be opened or held by enforcement authorities during transit.

Diplomatic correspondence is put into diplomatic bags – and declared as such – at the FDFA’s head office in Berne. Under the terms of the Vienna Convention, a diplomatic bag may only contain diplomatic papers or items reserved for official use. A diplomatic bag must have a seal attached and be marked as a diplomatic consignment. It can literally take the form of a bag or other container. It is then sent abroad by conventional mail or via courier services such as DHL.

The diplomatic courier in Berne processes over 18,000 incoming and outgoing diplomatic consignments every year. All these consignments together account for a total weight of 160 tonnes.  (KD)

Responsible for the FDFA official communications:

Consular Directorate, Innovation and Partnerships
Effingerstrasse 27, 3003 Berne, Switzerland | email