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Day Two of Swiss Briefing Tour

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June 11, 2010

A presentation on E-Voting, the process by which Swiss citizens vote online
The Swiss Touring group with the Parliament President and Vice President in the Zürich Parliament Building

By Johanna Herman

The second day of the tour proved just as busy as the first! A non stop tour of all things to do with the voting rights, government structure and revolutions in voting processes happing in Switzerland. First thing we left the city of Bülach and headed to the capital of the Canton (the equivalent of a US state) Zürich. The first thing we did was head over to the city government building and heard a presentation on the government structure of the city, general trends of voting and how the Zürich people vote. The presentation was given by Christina Wandeler who is a part of the foreign affairs office of the city. The group learned the differences between voting powers at the Canton and municipal level as well as the differences the city council and city parliament play in the governmental process of the city. Perhaps the most interesting bit learned was that TV and radio adds are not allowed during any election of any kind, a stark difference from the US where TV and radio adds play a huge part of the campaign process.

The next stop was the Zürich parliament where we got to listen to the Vice President of the parliament talk about the work the parliament does as well as how the initiative and referendum process works in the city. Although the President did not speak much English, she was attentive to all questions asked and provided support to questions asked of the Vice president. The Building is owned by the Canton of Zürich so the city Parliament has to rent it out for each session. To note some of the important questions asked, the agenda, budget, and voting issues are all transparent meaning that if any citizen of the city wanted to see what the city was spending money on they would only have to ask the government. Also, no term limits exist so there is no limit to the time a member of parliament can stay in their office.

The view of Zürich as we head across the lake
We then had a quick lunch, learning about Campaigns further in the city as well as the interesting point that there are no campaign finance laws, all finances are kept secret. The only was to gauge how much is spent is to estimate how much a news add or poster would cost to print. our last stop of the day was at the Statistical office of the Canton of Zürich who is responsible for all statistic gathering in the Canton as well as being the voting authority. The group was introduced to the idea of E-Voting, the process by which a Swiss citizen in one of the eight participating Cantons, can cast their election ballot on the internet. The process was explained, as well as the security measures taken to ensure the accuracy of the vote casting. The evolution of the system, from testing it in the Canton of Zürich then expanding it to seven more Cantons, was exaplained as well as the future goal of making it available on a nation wide scale. Switzerland is very revolutionary in this sense because no other country has really implemented the program, Estonia has started to do election tests to see if the system would work for them.

After this busy morning and early afternoon we took a lovely boat ride from one end of the Zürich sea to the other to end up at the town of Rapperswil. It was nice to relax a bit after such a hectic day. Tomorrow proves to be just as busy, with an introduction to the government here in Rapperswil then a trip up the Alps to learn about the Alpine Initiative.

See also