Echoes from 2011

OSCE/ODIHR Assessment of the 2011 Federal Electionsodihr report

On January 30, 2012 the OSCE/ODIHR, published its election assessment mission report on the federal elections that took place on October 23, 2011. The report highlighted the vitality of the Swiss democracy and underlined the impact of decentralization on regional variations in electoral practice. ODIHR proposed some measures to harmonize practices. Almost half of the proposals relate to internet voting, which was used, for the first time in a federal election, by four cantons. The cantons of Aargau, Basel Stadt, St. Gallen and Graubünden had recourse to two internet voting providers: Unisys, a private company which operates the Consortium system (a copy of the Zürich system) and the Geneva Canton which operates and controls its own internet voting system and provides internet voting to other cantons based on a hosting agreement.

The report issued recommendations of legal, organizational and technical nature on internet voting. Presumably the greatest majority of them will be tackled by the third report on internet voting. One recommendation sounds particularly interesting as it refers to all use of electronics in the elections’ environment. It says “Consideration could be given to requiring that all electronic systems related to elections meet specified, testable standards and be certified. A good practice would be for an independent body to undertake end-to-end testing of all computerized voting and counting system components such as data entry applications for vote recording, counting or tabulation“. Indeed the fact that all such systems should comply with cantonal requirements and must be controlled by cantonal authorities seems evident. But if the recommendation is to be interpreted in a way that such control and validation should be of a somehow centralized nature – as other recommendations on the harmonization of electoral practice suggest- then several difficulties arise, not least because of the absence of commonly agreed and accepted benchmarks, especially for systems other than internet voting (not to mention the problem of the repartition of competences in a federal state).

At the time of the report ODIHR had not yet finalized a methodology for the observation of e-voting. A discussion paper from 2008 will be followed by the announced publication of guidelines for the observation of electronic voting. This may intervene soon and will be awaited with interest as it presumably encompasses lessons learned from a series of recent internet voting observations’ missions , namely in Estonia, Norway, Switzerland and France. And it may be interesting for other electronic systems related to elections as well.

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