OSCE/ODIHR publishes Needs Assessment Report on Switzerland

Today, OSCE/ODIHR published their Needs Assessment report on the upcoming Federal Elections in Switzerland. It will be the first time that Internet voting will be offered for citizens living abroad who are registered in four cantons. Read the report here.

On 23 October, Swiss voters will elect members to both houses of the Federal Assembly for a four-year term. The 200 members of the National Council are elected though a proportional system. Most of the 46 members of the Council of States will be elected through a majoritarian system.

Switzerland is a federal state composed of 26 cantons, with each canton enjoying considerable autonomy. While federal legislation provides minimum conditions for National Council elections, the cantons are responsible for implementing regulations and organizing the election process. The Council of States elections are under the full competence of the cantons.

The administration of elections is highly decentralized, involving the Federal Chancellery, the cantonal chancelleries, and the communes; responsibilities and procedures vary considerably across the country. Switzerland has a longstanding experience with democratic elections and all interlocutors met during the NAM expressed a high level of trust in the election administration.

Swiss citizens can vote through a wide variety of methods, including in person, by post, and, for some 22,000 out-of-country voters, via the internet. The use of internet voting will be introduced for the first time for federal elections on a trial basis in four cantons using two different systems. Postal voting is estimated to be used by some 90 per cent of voters. OSCE/ODIHR NAM interlocutors indicated that postal and internet voting enjoy a high level of trust and acceptance in Switzerland.

Approximately 5.1 million Swiss citizens will be eligible to vote in these elections. Swiss citizens residing abroad have the possibility to vote in the National Council elections. However, only 11 cantons allow voting in the Council of States elections. Almost 22 per cent of the population is resident non-citizens. Although there is a growing trend to allow non-citizens to vote in local elections, cantonal rules vary and the issue is divided along party lines.

Campaign financing is largely unregulated in Switzerland. Parties can receive unlimited funds from any source and there are no limits on campaign expenditure. With the exception of the cantons of Geneva and Ticino, there are no requirements for the disclosure of the sources and amounts of donations. However, the current political discourse reflects a widespread view that party and campaign financing should be addressed.

The media landscape is pluralistic and structured primarily along linguistic lines. There is no specific federal regulation on media coverage of the campaign period. Coverage of the election campaign is largely self-regulated with the possibility to appeal to media supervisory bodies. Political advertising is prohibited in electronic media.

Complaints and appeals are regulated at the federal and cantonal level and ensure a timely right to judicial review for all aspects of the election process. The cantonal governments are the body of first instance and their decisions can be appealed to the Federal Supreme Court.

Women remain underrepresented in Swiss politics and voter turnout is significantly lower among women as compared to men. Federal authorities have taken steps to increase women’s political participation and some parties indicated that they would implement specific measures to increase the number of women candidates.

Federal legislation does not include specific provisions for international or domestic observers. However, a possible OSCE/ODIHR election observation activity was welcomed by all OSCE/ODIHR NAM interlocutors, recognizing that electoral processes can always be improved and that an external assessment and recommendations by the OSCE/ODIHR may contribute to this.

Since the 2007 OSCE/ODIHR Election Assessment Mission (EAM) to Switzerland, some recommendations have been addressed by the Swiss authorities. Nevertheless, several issues could benefit from closer attention, including the implementation of internet voting for some 22,000 out-of-country voters, the under-regulation of party and campaign finance, non-citizen voting rights, as well as cantonal variations in electoral practices. For this reason the OSCE/ODIHR NAM recommends the deployment of an EAM for the upcoming 23 October federal elections.