A data standard for Swiss political rights
Digital handling of information requires standardized data. This is particularly necessary if data from different sources are to be collated, compared, merged and so on. In a Confederation of States like Switzerland where Cantons (States) enjoy important powers in the field of political rights so that electoral practice and its underlying data varies from Canton to Canton (in decentralized Cantons, even from a Commune to another), standards are especially important.
Internet voting is a good example. When canton A (internet- voting-service provider) and canton B (internet-voting-service user) decide to work together, one of the first things they have to make sure is that data from canton B, voters’ register for example, can be read and used by canton A to program the digital ballot box for canton B. At the end of the vote, canton B should be able to read, interpret and integrate the results of its internet ballot box extracted from canton A internet-voting-service. Furthermore, if canton B decides to change its internet-voting-service provider or canton A to offer internet voting to yet another canton, both have an interest in continuing to use the same data standards with their new partners. This need was recognized by several cantons, in particular the decentralized ones which have to deal with data coming from different communes, each one using its own standards.
Under the patronage of the federal Chancellery a working group produced in 2012 a data standard (Datenstandard Politische Rechte, Norme de données droits politiques) which covers votes and elections taking place at all levels of the federal state. The standard is pending approval by eCH – the Swiss e-Government standards setting agency. Its implementation is meant to be voluntary – interested cantons may introduce it as of now and some may do so in 2013. It will be interesting to observe its implementation. Will the new standard be able to cover all eventualities? Is it flexible enough to integrate new requirements from cantons or communes? Will cantons embrace it rapidly? A successful implementation of the standard has the potential to create new opportunities for electoral practice digitization projects.