On 13 July OSCE/ODIHR published a Needs Assessement Mission report (NAM) on the upcoming Swiss federal elections of 18 October 2015 (National Council Elections). The report recommends the deployment of an Election Expert Team to specifically assess the legal framework for Internet voting.
According to the experts the revised legal framework for Internet voting and its implementation could benefit from a more in-depth assessment, particularly in light of the authorities’ stated intention to extend its usage in future federal elections.
This will be the second time that the Warsaw-based organisation observes the implementation of Internet voting during federal elections. Its previous recommendations issued after the 2011 election have been implemented following the adoption of the last federal report on e-voting in June 2013 and the amendements in e-voting legislation .
It would be interesting to see against which benchmarks the legal framework will be assessed. Swiss legislation on internet voting was introduced in 2002 and importantly amended in 2014 to reflect recent developments, namely the introduction of individual and universal verifiability. The international benchmark, to which the OSCE/ODIHR refers, namely the Council of Europe Recommendation on legal, operational and technical standards for e-voting, was adopted in 2004 and is due to be updated to better reflect recent experiences in this field.
For the upcoming National Council elections, it is expected that remote Internet voting pilots will be conducted in 13 cantons and will be proposed to an estimated 85,000 citizens living abroad and to some further 95,000 voters resident in the cantons of Geneva and Neuchâtel. The stated intention of the authorities is to ultimately provide Internet voting for all citizens in federal elections, as a complement to existing voting methods. It is also viewed as an important means of facilitating voting for citizens abroad.
Extracts from the OSCE/ODIHR NAM report:
NEW VOTING TECHNOLOGIES
For the upcoming National Council elections, it is expected that remote Internet voting pilots will be conducted in 13 cantons. In these cantons, all of the estimated 85,000 citizens living abroad would be able to cast their ballot via the Internet. Some further 95,000 voters resident in the cantons of Geneva and Neuchâtel would also be offered the option to vote via the Internet. This is the second time that Internet voting has been trialled in Federal Assembly elections and the first time that citizens resident in Switzerland would be able to vote via the Internet.
The pilots represent the continuation of a gradual approach of the Swiss authorities to introduce Internet voting that began in 2000. In 2013, the Federal Council published its third report on Internet voting, providing an evaluation of the pilot schemes between 2006 and 2012 and defining its future strategy. The stated intention of the authorities is to ultimately provide Internet voting for all citizens in federal elections, as a complement to existing voting methods. It is also viewed as an important means of facilitating voting for citizens abroad.
The Federal Act on Political Rights provides minimum standards for Internet voting pilots, which are currently restricted to a maximum of 10 per cent of the country’s electorate and 30 per cent of the cantonal electorate. These limits do not apply to Swiss citizens living abroad. In line with a prior OSCE/ODIHR recommendation, comprehensive end-to-end testing of Internet voting systems must take place before the Federal Council can approve their use. For these elections, three different systems have been submitted for approval with a decision expected in mid-August.
More detailed regulation of Internet voting is provided in Article 27 of the Federal Decree on Political Rights (amended in 2014) and a new Federal Decree on Electronic Voting (adopted in 2014), which includes an annex of technical and administrative requirements for Internet voting. This revised legal framework provides greater detail on key processes and addresses a number of prior OSCE/ODIHR recommendations, including requirements for printing voter identification cards, handling encrypted data, and processing personal data.
In addition, all Internet voting systems are now required to provide voters with the possibility to individually verify that their vote has been cast as intended, as previously recommended by the OSCE/ODIHR. Eligible voters will receive codes with their voter identification card that will allow them to check that their ballot is recorded correctly and corresponds to their intention. From 2016, the Federal Chancellery also intends to provide universal verifiability, whereby any person or group can use mathematical means of verification to check that election results correspond to the votes cast and that the process has been conducted accurately.
In addition to new legal provisions, a permanent working group chaired by the Federal Chancellery was established to exchange good practices on NVT, as previously recommended by the OSCE/ODIHR. Discussions within the working group have focussed on training of staff and further harmonization of cantonal procedures and standards for Internet voting.
Almost all OSCE/ODIHR NAM interlocutors expressed their trust in the administration and integrity of Internet voting systems and welcomed the efforts made by the Federal Chancellery to strengthen the legal framework and relevant procedures. However, some interlocutors raised concerns about how the newly introduced measures will be implemented during the 2015 elections, especially in respect of cantonal oversight and management, data protection, individual verifiability mechanisms and secrecy of the vote.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
All OSCE/ODIHR NAM interlocutors expressed full confidence in the election administration and its ability to organize elections in a professional and impartial manner. No fundamental concerns were raised in relation to voter and candidate registration, campaigning, or media coverage. As a long-standing recommendation to enhance campaign finance transparency remains unaddressed, it would not add value to deploy an observation activity to further examine the issue. The OSCE/ODIHR, however, is ready to assist the authorities in any future campaign finance reform, including the provision of expertise on good practices and the review of draft legislation.
The recently revised legal framework for Internet voting, however, could benefit from a more in-depth assessment. Although many prior OSCE/ODIHR recommendations on NVT have been addressed, the implementation of the new measures would merit greater scrutiny, particularly in light of the authorities’ intention to extend the use of Internet voting in future federal elections. A number of OSCE/ODIHR NAM interlocutors stated that they would welcome a potential observation activity focussed on NVT, recognising that further improvements could be made and that an external assessment may contribute to this. Accordingly, the OSCE/ODIHR NAM recommends the deployment of an Election Expert Team for the upcoming elections, to specifically assess the legal framework for Internet voting and its implementation.