A leading data protection expert has warned of future security breaches if the government’s plan to introduce e-voting at a nationwide level goes ahead. Bruno Baeriswyl, data protection commissioner in canton Zurich, urged the authorities to give up plans, announced last April, for online voting across Switzerland. Speaking on the occasion of this year’s European Data Privacy Day at the end of January, Baeriswyl said that current technology could not guarantee that ballots remain secret in votes and elections. He and other cantonal data protection commissioners argued that digitalisation could undermine democratic principles even while online systems help to simplify procedures. “The current systems for e-voting override the secret ballot in votes and elections. But it is imperative that all transactions must always be verifiable in a secure system. As a result, either we have ballot secrecy or we don’t have a secure method,” Baeriswyl said. “And this is highly risky for our democracy.”
Articles about voting issues in the Swiss Confederation.
Switzerland is often regarded internationally as a model of functioning democracy. But a closer look shows that Swiss democracy is far from perfect. The “rule of all” turns out to be the “rule of some”. It is September 24, 2017, a “voting Sunday” as we say here in Switzerland. Voters have the final say on a crucial reform of the old age pension system. This is a topic that will concern everyone, sooner or later. Over the course of the day it becomes apparent that the proposed reform isn’t getting a majority of votes and is going down to defeat. But the real letdown begins to be felt late in the evening, when the last municipalities send in their tallies to the election authorities.
In order to ensure the security of online voting systems used in Switzerland, the government needs to issue a challenge to the worldwide hacker community, offering rewards to anyone who can “blow holes in the system”, says a computer scientist in parliament. Since it began in 2000, Switzerland’s e-voting project has been a matter of controversy. While some have been calling for its introduction to be fast-tracked in all the country’s 26 cantons, others would like to see the project slowed. In parliament there has been a call for a moratorium on electronic voting in the whole country for four years, except for the Swiss abroad. To put an end to all the concerns and convince the critics that security and secrecy of online voting can be guaranteed, Radical Party parliamentarian Marcel Dobler thinks there needs to be an unequivocal demonstration that systems used in Switzerland are proof against computer piracy. The best way to do this, he says, is to invite hackers to target them.
People with disabilities and placed under full guardianship are the only Swiss citizens who do not have the right to vote. This violates the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Switzerland ratified in 2014. Experts are now committed to overturning this inequality. People in this group are those with serious and long-term disabilities, that according to Article 136 of the Federal Constitutionexternal link, makes them ‘permanently incapable of judgement’. As they are unable to care for themselves, the Cantonal Protection Office for Children and Adults places them under full guardianship.
Voting pamphlets and explanations of federal bills should be available online in sign language, says the Swiss Federation for the Deaf, which has handed in a petition to the federal chancellery. For the more than 10,000 people in Switzerland who are deaf or profoundly hard of hearing, the voting pamphlet appears in the “wrong language”, the federation said in a statementexternal link on Monday. “Their language is sign language. Written German is a foreign language they have to struggle to learn,” it wrote. “Having to understand complex political content in this foreign language is an unnecessary hurdle which violates Swiss and international law on barrier-free access to information.” The federation explained that without appropriate measures, “the free formation of opinions and therefore political participation is made more difficult – if not impossible – for affected people”.
The use of electronic voting in Switzerland has been making slow progress amid setbacks over security concerns. The Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) is pushing for the introduction of e-voting for all Swiss expats by the next parliamentary elections in October 2019. Critics complain that the number of cantons offering their registered Swiss citizens abroad the option of e-voting falls short of expectations. In all, 775,000 Swiss citizens live overseas and if you consider that e-voting trials using online technology have been underway since 2004, the number of potential beneficiaries is rather modest. About 158,000 expats from eight cantons (see map below) have the option of participating in the September 24 votes on the controversial old age pension reform, food security and some cantonal issues using a secure computer programme. Eighteen other cantons, including the populous cantons of Zurich and Vaud, do not offer e-voting.
The Swiss government has given the green light to two cantons to resume online voting in time for the next set of referendums in September. The cantons of St Gallen and Aargau will be able to resume e-voting, joining six other cantons which already offer the system. Online voting was used previously in St Gallen and Aargau between 2010 and 2015, when the government banned the practice before that year’s general election, due to security loopholes. During that time, both cantons used the Vote électronique system which involved a total of nine cantons before the government withdrew its authorization.
The Swiss authorities are preparing to expand e-voting to more cantons, which would give more citizens the chance to cast their votes electronically. The government on Wednesday said the system should be expanded from its test phase. Until now, 14 cantons have at various times allowed Swiss living abroad to vote electronically. Three cantons (Neuchatel, Geneva and Basel City) have operated e-voting systems for Swiss-based citizens. Up to two-thirds of citizens who have been eligible to vote electronically have grabbed the opportunity, proving that strong demand exists, the government said.
Swiss citizens of some cantons who live abroad have a choice of two systems with which to vote online in votes in their home country. One of these is offered by Swiss Post. It has now put a demo version online, which people can use to simulate their participation. More than just an advertising stunt? A trial goes smoothly: First, I can download a digital voting card from Swiss Post’s special websiteexternal link (in the country’s four national languages, German, French, Italian and Romansh) which I would usually have received by post. This has three codes.
Reporters without Borders has condemned a Swiss court’s decision to convict a journalist of electoral fraud after he voted twice in order to prove failures in the system. Joël Boissard, who works for Swiss broadcaster RTS, was fined, ordered to pay court costs and given a further suspended fine after being found guilty in early November, according to news agencies. The incident occurred last year when Boissard, who had recently moved house, received two sets of voting documents for federal and cantonal elections on March 8th 2015. Assuming the online system would prevent him from voting twice, he tried to do so – and succeeded. Boissard immediately contacted the electoral authorities to report what he had done and ask them to explain the anomaly, he told news agencies.