Swiss abroad feel let down by vote failures

Could electronic voting solve the problem of late or missing documents for the Swiss abroad? Keystone / Anthony Anex

Two of the five initiative proposals in Sunday’s vote went right down to the wire. Many Swiss people living abroad could not cast their vote because they did not get their documents or had trouble returning them. How would they have voted had they been given the chance?

This content was published on September 28, 2020 - 16:58

Every vote counted when deciding on reforming the hunting law and on buying new fighter jets – the latter passing by just 8,670 votes out of more than three million cast. This made it all the more annoying for the Swiss Abroad who could not have their say.

On Sunday a Swiss person living abroad posed this question on our social media channel: “With such a tight decision, the votes from abroad would have really counted. I declare the vote invalid!”

The Organisation of the Swiss Abroad said in a press release that it had received numerous complaints from Swiss nationals living in the European Union who did not get documents two weeks before the polls. It repeated demands for secure electronic voting systems, which it says would finally allow the 780,000 Swiss citizens abroad to fully take part in Swiss referendums and elections.

It is estimated that up to 30,000 of the Swiss Abroad did not receive their voting documents or received them too late. But missing documents is not the only obstacle, as our survey shows. has received numerous reports of voting forms arriving on time, but that it was impossible or highly expensive to return them because of chaos in the international postal system.

"The voting documents arrived very early, which motivated me once again to exercise my rights. I got plenty of information beforehand, so the ballot papers were filled out quickly and the Postal Dominicana was only a stone’s throw away,” writes Hans-Jörg Kalt from the Dominican Republic.

“My joy was suddenly cut short when I was informed that the Dominican Post was not sending letters to Switzerland due to Covid-19. The embassy confirmed this. When I asked various international companies that still sent mail, the cheapest price was around CHF112 ($120). Thanks, but despite everything it wasn’t worth it for me.”

The documents also arrived on time in Serbia, but returning them was also problematic, as Detlef Berg writes: “Of course, it was not possible to send them back for free and waiting in line for hours at the post office was no fun.”

Eleonora Meier writes: “Since coronavirus, the postman in the town where I live has disappeared. There is no more mail delivered and if you go to the post office, they tell us nothing has arrived.”

Cantonal differences

The country in which Swiss voters are resident was not the only factor. The performance of different Swiss cantons in the process was also erratic.

It is noticeable that the cantons of Zurich and Aargau, for example, did very well. A Swiss citizen in Britain reports: “I have always received documents very early. Usually four to five weeks before the vote. Even now, when we had to reckon with delays, the documents arrived very early. Thumbs up, City of Zurich!”

On the other hand, some Swiss Abroad who are registered in canton Bern report that shipping outside of Switzerland is hardly possible. “At the beginning I always received the documents. For several years I have not received any documents from canton Bern," writes Hélène Kern from Germany.

But it can often boil down to local post offices, as Christian Felder from Germany confirms: “I find it strange that I got the documents very early in Munich and my son in Berlin [got them] only in the week before the vote.” Both are registered in the same canton.

There is a great deal of frustration among many Swiss people abroad. Mario Gisiger writes: “I only received the documents the day before voting. But this is probably because there are currently hardly any flights to the Seychelles. Normally things work just fine.” 

And Ruth Soguel-dit-Piquard from New Caledonia writes that she is incredibly frustrated. “For me, the election forms are often only useful for the wastepaper basket or for shopping lists. I have the right to vote, but thanks to the snail-mail I have to forgo my vote.”

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