Since 1 July 1992, Swiss Abroad have been able to vote by mail at national level. However, depending on where people live, it can take a great deal of time for the voting documents to be delivered, which means that eligible voters are unable to return their votes in time for the ballot count. In some cases, the documents never reach the Swiss Abroad. This makes electronic voting an important voting alternative for the more than 788,000 Swiss Abroad, as e-voting is often the only way for them to participate in a referendum or election. The Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA), SwissCommunity, has thus been advocating for years for Swiss Abroad to be given the option of electronic voting (e-voting).
E-voting was first introduced in 2002 as part of pilot projects in three cantons. Since then, there have been over three hundred trials in 15 different cantons. The analyses have shown that up to two thirds of the voters choose to vote electronically right from the outset if they have the possibility to do so.
Nevertheless, the various trial systems were gradually discontinued. In 2015, the use of the “Consortium Vote électronique” system was not approved by the Federal Council because a failure to protect voter privacy was discovered. Four years later, the two remaining systems were also discontinued, as the Swiss Post system had security flaws, and the system developed by the Canton Geneva was abandoned for financial reasons.
After the systems developed by Canton Geneva and Swiss Post were discontinued in 2019, there was no longer an e-voting system available. However, the Confederation is applying the lessons learnt from the past trials and launched a redesigned version of the e-voting trial on 21 December 2020. The aim is for the cantons to once again be able to conduct limited trials of e-voting, this time using fully verifiable systems. More precise security requirements, increased transparency, closer cooperation with independent experts, and effective auditing on behalf of the Confederation will all contribute to ensuring the security of electronic voting. A consultation process was conducted in 2021 on amendments to the legislation, and SwissCommunity also issued a statement on the topic.
On 5 July 2021, the Federal Chancellery started the independent review of the Swiss Post e-voting system. Experts from science and industry were commissioned to carry out the review. Their work focused on four areas: the system’s cryptographic protocol, the software being used, the infrastructure and operation at Swiss Post, as well as a mandatory intrusion test for the system.
The initial results were published by the Federal Chancellery on 20 April 2022. These indicate that Swiss Post’s e-voting system has been improved since 2019, while further improvements are also required, such as to the cryptographic protocol and verifiability with the preservation of voting secrecy. Swiss Post must implement the improvement measures, and the system will then be subjected to another independent review. The focus is on meeting the security requirements for the use of e-voting systems as defined in the revised legislation. After the detected security flaws have been resolved, the system will be relaunched at the beginning of 2023.
The Federal Council enacted the partial revision on the Ordinance on Political Rights (PoRO) on 25 May 2022. The completely revised Federal Chancellery Ordinance on Electronic Voting (OEV) also entered into force on the same date. The new legislation is effective as of 1 July 2022 and will once again allow the cantons to offer e-voting within the framework of trials.
The cantons are responsible for conducting the voting. As soon as the final reports of the independent review of the Swiss Post e-voting system are available, the cantons can apply to the Federal Council for an initial licence to use the new system for the federal elections. SwissCommunity hopes that as many cantons as possible will take advantage of this option.
The OSA has been conducting various campaigns for some years now calling for the introduction of e-voting for Swiss citizens abroad. SwissCommunity also submitted a petition on the issue in 2018 and regularly supports parliamentary initiatives in this regard.