Voting and technology in 2013, a retrospective

Time line of major developments in Switzerland and beyond

For a start, I wish you, dear reader, a happy and successful year! This first 2014 post will look back into 2013 which was exceptionally rich in developments related to political rights and technology in Switzerland, Europe and beyond. Let’s review its main realizations, promises, challenges and setbacks. Will that unveil what lies ahead…? Stay tuned and enjoy the reading!

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  • An interesting symposium on the future of voting systems took place in the U.S. (Maryland). Although centered on developments in the U.S., the conference discussed trends that are also to be observed in Europe and Switzerland as well. Evidence-based elections is one of the main emerging trends, where technology is instrumental in providing evidence. Certification of voting systems is considered an important process however not the only necessary one. Auditing is gaining importance and is extending to cover the whole voting cycle. End-to-end verifiability, or the verification of every step of the election/vote, is the new paradigm shift in voting. More…


  • On March 27 the Swiss Federal Court (Bundesgericht) upheld an appeal from a Geneva citizen on the security and control requirements of internet voting. The court referred the matter back to the initial decision-maker for a new decision asking the cantonal court to determine the issue of the technical regulation necessary in order for canton Geneva to be able to offer internet voting to its entire electorate and thus go beyond the limited use of internet voting (30% of the cantonal electorate) as practiced during federal votings. More…
  • An updated Roadmap explaining the strategy and measures to be taken in 2013-2018 on internet voting was approved by the Conference of Chancellors, a gathering of the federal and cantonal Chancellors most of whom are in charge of political rights implementation. The declared aim is the following: extend internet voting from a channel currently limited to a small part of the electorate to a fully fledged voting channel open to all voters.


  • For the first time audit reports of a Swiss internet voting system were made entirely available online. The Geneva internet voting system was submitted to three tests in 2012: intrusion test, source code analysis and ISO 9001 evaluation. The results were made public in accordance with cantonal regulation. More…
  • The University of Geneva published a study on the impact of internet voting on participation based on Geneva’s almost uninterrupted 10 year use of internet voting. It came out that internet voting has not increased participation of specific groups, such as young people. There is however a correlation between internet voting and “last-minute” voting although it could not be determined that last-minute voting (and the choice of internet voting channel) was the result of late decision-taking. The Geneva study confirms the results of a previous Zurich report.
  • Following the study, the cantonal Commission for the evaluation of public policies recommended the cantonal Government to continue the development and extension of internet voting, despite the mixed results. The Commission recommended a greater communication effort to promote internet voting towards active voters with the aim of replacing postal voting by internet voting which would simplify the counting and, subject to an important increase of the number of internet voters, be less expensive than postal voting. More…
  • Canton Valais announced its decision to introduce internet voting for its Swiss abroad. Cantons Valais, Uri, Obwalden and Vaud were expected to join the Geneva internet voting system in 2013-2014.


  • The federal Chancellery announced that internet voting will be used in the 2015 federal elections of the National Council (federal Parliament’s biggest chamber). The three systems are ready to be used in federal elections according to the Chancellery. The systems of Geneva and Zurich had already been used in the 2011 federal elections. Neuchâtel used internet voting for the first time at the cantonal elections that took place last spring. More…


  • Canton Zurich announced it will resume internet voting and join the Consortium of seven cantons in 2014. This would put an end to a three years long suspension of internet voting. The cantonal Government explained its objective of offering internet voting to Swiss abroad in 2015 and extending it to resident voters by 2018.
  • The Federal Government approved a (third) federal report on internet voting. The report includes a detailed evaluation of the 2006-2012 experiences with the use of internet voting in a limited and controlled way by the cantons. It also presents the requirements for the future development and extension of internet voting up to 100% of the electorate.
  • On June 22, Sébastien Andrivet, an ethical hacker based in Geneva, gave a talk at a hackers gathering event in Paris where he explained how to successfully hack the Geneva internet voting system. The attack was simulated on a copy of the Geneva system created by Andrivet. A few weeks later the press took over the affair. More…
  • Neuchâtel, an internet voting pioneer canton, introduced e-voting at the cantonal parliament. Prior to that cantonal MPs used to vote by raising hands. A few weeks later the smaller chamber of the Federal Parliament (the chamber of Cantons) decided to do just the same thing after it had resisted doing so for a while. Several (human) counting errors eventually convinced the Senators to introduce e-voting. More…


  • The Spanish General Review of Compared Public Law (RGDPC) published a special issue on the legal aspects of e-voting, coordinated by Jordi Barrat. I signed a contribution “Internet voting and federalism: the Swiss case” which considers the peculiarities of internet voting development in the swiss federalist context. The paper highlights the repartition of roles and responsibilities between the Cantons and the Confederation with respect to introduction, operation and control of the internet voting channel. More…
  • Internet voting further development as foreseen in the mentioned federal report of 14 June 2013 was reflected in a proposal to modify the federal legislation on internet voting. The modification of the Ordinance on political Rights and a newly introduced technical Regulation of the federal Chancellery on internet voting were submitted for public consultation until mid July. The detailed result of the consultations were later published. They show that a majority of cantons and political parties approved the proposed modifications.
  • The source code of the Estonian internet voting system was published on GitHub.
  • The press reports on the suggested attack on the Geneva system (see above) sparked a wave of political reactions against internet voting ranging from requests to stop using the current systems to legislative proposals to abolish all legal provisions on e-voting. The Swiss Pirate Party, which portrays itself as a representative of the digital natives, issued a press communication on internet voting asking for more transparency and the publication of the code source of the systems. At a cantonal level, the Pirates positioned themselves against a moratorium and in favor of the ongoing development of the Geneva internet voting system.


  • The press continued to echo the debate on internet voting exposing arguments in favor and against it.
  • Canton Geneva announced a decision not to use internet voting in the Autumn’s cantonal elections.


  • Norway conducted its second internet voting experiment. An information session on the Norwegian electoral and internet voting system and a seminar with interested specialists from all over the world organized as side events were streamed live.
  • Two motions were introduced at the federal parliament. One asked for a stop to Government’s plans to extend internet voting while the second intervention demanded that internet voting only be authorized for systems that offer verifiability and whose source code is made public.
  • Several interventions were submitted at cantonal parliaments as well. The authorities’ main reply was that the introduction of end-to-end verifiability as foreseen in the new federal legislation will allow for anomalies and attacks, such as the one suggested by the Geneva hacker, to be detected.


  • OSCE/ODIHR published a Handbook for the observation of new voting technologies. The Handbook covers issues that span over the whole process of introducing NVT and instructs observers on how to examine such issues. The Council of Europe 2004 Recommendation on e-voting and related Guidelines as well as the OSCE principles for democratic elections are the legal background against which NVT are evaluated.
  • Canton Zurich’s Government announced plans to create one single register for its Swiss abroad. The register will be administered by the canton. Up to then each municipality had its own register of Swiss abroad. The new cantonal register will be effective in Autumn 2014. This will enable the canton to introduce internet voting for Swiss abroad.
  • Estonia conducted local elections on October 20. The advance voting period was prolonged and the internet voting system was expected to offer some verifiability for the first time. The verification of internet votes shall however not be implemented before 2015, the 2013 local elections being a first test. According to official explanations, voters will be able to verify their internet votes with a smart device (mobile phone or a tablet) equipped with a camera and Internet connection.
  • Graubünden and the other six cantons which are part of the Consortium of cantons that currently use the Zurich internet voting system, reconfirmed their intention to invest in the development of a second generation system for internet voting with the intention to gradually extend the use of this channel to all cantonal voters and all types of political votes until 2020.


  • A new e-Government monitor survey conducted in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, UK, USA and Sweden showed that users were losing confidence in e-government services following Snowden’s revelations. Also interned voting seemed to suffer from the NSA spying affair.
  • The proposed modification of the Federal Act on Political Rights introduced a provision on the observation of voting by citizens aiming at harmonizing existing cantonal practices. Another important modification – the introduction of a social security number (AHV/AVS) as a unique identifier for cantonal candidates at federal elections – was abandoned following refusal by the cantons. The identification number would have significantly facilitated the centralized control by the federal Chancellery of lists of candidates presented in different cantons. However a majority of cantons considered that the administration of such technical information (the identification number would have come in a “hashed” form) was too laborious for them.


  • The new federal legislation on internet voting was approved by the federal Government and scheduled to enter into force on 15 January 2014.
  • Canton Vaud decided to postpone the introduction of internet voting until a second generation system providing verifiability was made available in Switzerland. It followed similar moves by Valais, Uri and Obwalden. This could delay plans to offer internet voting to Swiss abroad in the 2015 federal election.
  • The federal Chancellery presented the new e-voting legislation and explained its strategy to the press.
  • The Geneva cantonal Court of Auditors published two reports on the cantonal voting services. The report on internet voting was critical as to its planning and its financial burden in the past ten years. The report on the centralized counting of postal ballots recommended the introduction of optical scans to accelerate the counting.
  • Upon invitation of the Austrian Chairmanship of the Council of Europe and under the leadership of the Council of Europe, an informal meeting of experts took place in Vienna on December 19 to discuss a possible update of the Council of Europe Recommendation on e-voting. I was invited to write a report on a possible update of the recommendation and also made a presentation on this issue.

Would you like to know more? Have a look at other posts on this blog, consult my tweets or drop your question in the box below… . Something important missing? Let me know and I may add it to the list.

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