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Electronic Voting as used in Switzerland

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This article seeks to explain the Swiss E-Voting system as discussed on the IRI briefing tour, using information from the presentation given by the Unisys company in regards to their work in Zürich, how electronic voting was introduced in the country and how it is now used in roughly half of the 26 Swiss cantons.

The E-Voting Introduction

E-Voting info talk by Unisys, a company that created one of the e-voting systems in use in Switzerland

In 2001, the Swiss Confederation decided to support the developement of internet voting in the country. Postal voting had been widespread since the mid-nineties and it therefore made sense to try to adapt remote voting to the ICT era. Interested cantons were invited to come forward, since the diversity of the electoral laws and procedures in the country made it unthinkable to have only one single system nationwide.

Geneva, Neuchâtel and Zürich volunteered to develop a system with federal financial support, under condition that they would share it free of charge with the rest of the country once approved by the Confederation. These three cantons were used as the testing ground for the development of the software and programming for the new systems. Zürich commissioned Unysis, Neuchâtel worked with Scytl and Geneva developed its own system. The first eEnabled ballot took place in January 2003 in Geneva and the first federal eEnabled ballot in September 2004, also in Geneva.

Zürich, which had developed a text version of the eVoting platform, abandoned it in 2008, due to the scarce use by citizens.

In 2008, Geneva proposed to host citizens of other cantons on its platform in order to minimize the investments. The Confederation accepted the idea and the cantons were invited to choose one of the three pioneers to work with. Today, Argau, Fribourg, Graubunden, Solothurn, Schaffhausen, Sankt-Gallen and Thurgau have chosen the Unysis solution, while Basel-Stadt, Bern and Luzern have chosen Geneva. For the time being, the hosting only concerns Swiss nationals living abroad. As internet voitng is still in a pilot stage in Switzerland, the Confederations caps its use within the country and no more than 20% of resident eligible voters may have access to it. Yet, this makes Switzerland only second to Latvia for the use of internet voting in the world.

The Confederation maintains a strong control on the project and certifies the three systems each time they undergo a new development.

The Security Issue

The issue of how secure one's vote was when casting electronically is a major issue. Critics of electronic voting and the failure of voting machines in various countries have increased the awareness in Switzerland regarding the security of internet voting. Section 27 of the federal ordinance on political rights foresses detailed - yet technically neutral - security performances that the systems in use in the country must attain. The Confederation controls the existing systems against this benchmark.

Geneva, Necuhâtel and Zürich have adopted different approaches but they all have in common multiple security checks during the voting procedure. Each citizen receives a unique pin and picture printed on his single use voting card to enable him identifying the server but also to enable him identifying himself to the server. The programs' source code is not available to the public but can be audited by experts mandated by the authorities. Regular penetration tests and procedures audits are conducted.

See also

Additional reading