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The "electronic identity" had no chance at the ballot box

8 March 2021

For the time being, no electronic identity (E-ID) will be introduced in Switzerland: In the referendum of 7 March 2021, the Swiss electorate clearly rejected the plans.

The promise was great: with an electronic identity (E-ID) it would be easier and more secure to do business online, use online services and communicate digitally with the authorities (e-government). However, voters very clearly rejected the deal, which was recommended for approval by the Federal Council and parliament: 64.4 percent voted no in the ballot box on 7 March. The E-ID was not accepted in a single canton.

However, the clear "No" should not be understood as a fundamental decision against new technologies. The referendum committee, which forced the referendum and has now prevailed, rather criticised the fact that private providers would have issued the new Swiss E-ID. The state's only role would have been to check a person's identity. With this "commercialisation of digital identity", the state would be degraded to a "data supplier", the referendum committee argued.

That the clear No to the E-ID is primarily a No to private solutions was shown by the first statements on the Sunday of the vote: the Social Democratic Party and the Green Liberals, both representing the No  campaign, said that the Confederation must now work very quickly towards a purely state E-ID solution. The supporters also interpret the No vote not as a general rejection of an E-ID, but as a rejection of a private solution.

For the Swiss abroad, the rapid introduction of an E-ID might have been advantageous: Secure identification on the internet enables fully digital e-voting procedures. Without an e-ID, e-voting still depends on the postal route: The required PIN must be sent by post.

Although e-ID solutions could be key elements of future e-voting procedures, the parliament of the Fifth Switzerland, the Council of the Swiss Abroad (CSA), also remained sceptical in the run-up to the vote. In July 2020, the CSA was reluctant to vote in favour of e-ID, with 37 yes votes to 26 no votes and 18 abstentions. However, at that time the topic of e-voting was completely put on hold in Switzerland. In the meantime, the federal authorities have announced that they will allow the cantons to carry out new e-voting trials. The first of these trials should start in 2022.

On 7 March 2021, the Swiss electorate also decided: