and citizens living abroad:
some inputs from Geneva
Geneva State Chancellery
Our project illustrates the application of the "e" approach in the realm of
the political rights.
Yet, as voting machines have been widely criticized – at least in Europe
and North America, we have decide to use the letter "I" instead of "e" to
mark our difference.
The two poles of the debate
The debate around the expatriates' political rights
is quite new in Europe
So far, we mostly debated around foreigners' right
in their place of residence
(i.e. EU countries grant any EU citizen a municipal voting
right on his/her place of residence)
The strong EU‐intern emigration is leading
to a rethinking of the issue
The two poles of this debate are the residence‐based
approach to political rights vs. the nationality‐based one
The debate around access of expatriates to political rights is quite new in Europe.
For years, it has mostly been debated whether to allow foreigners to vote in their country of
residence or not. This is changing, as notably the European Union enlargement has provoked
large emigration from Eastern European countries (find en hotel receptionist in London who is not
This signals an evolution of the perception, away from the territory-based (residence-based)
concept of citizenship called territorial democracy (I vote where I live) towards a nationality-based
In the residence-based vision, citizenship is not only a legal status, it is a social reality based on
the individuals' participation in the life of the community. This form of citizenship is linked to the
"territorial democracy" approach, a name that designates a form of democracy where all laws
must be adopted by those who have to comply with them, whatever their citizenship. This is akin
to the "no taxation without representation" that the Tea party rioters in Boston shouted back in
In this perspective, limiting citizenship to the mere citizens of a country does not correspond to
any public interest and can be considered as an inequality of treatment versus the well integrated
The nationality-based vision of citizenship states that each country freely decides the rights and
obligations it intends to give to the foreigners who live on its soil, within the boundaries of
international right. While the latter impose a corpus of rights that states have to grant to the
foreigners residing on their territory, it is also internationally recognized that political rights are
reserved to the nationals, as well as for example diplomatic protection, as confirmed by article 25
of the UN pact on civil and political rights states.
To take part in the formation of a country's political will, one has to belong to its people and share
its destiny. Therefore, a specific link with that country through the possession of its citizenship is a
condition for this participation.
Citizenship is also the outcome of an integration process. It certifies that the individual's
integration has been successful and that this person adheres to the community of values and
destiny. From this point of view, breaking the relationship between nationality and citizenship
would dilute nationality and would open a Pandora's box, creating legal insecurity.
On the background is the observation that expatriation is getting more common and more
reversible, as more students and qualified workers spend some years abroad. There is here a
new reality emerging.
The turnout issue
In the case of remote voting,
turnout is the second dimension of the issue
Turnout is low in many modern democracies
Postal vote (introduced 1995 in Geneva) increased
turnout by 20 percentage points
Today, 95% of all votes are cast remotely
Yet, 40%‐45% of citizens still do not vote
Can we reach for them through a new delivery channel?
To see it for ourselves, we began iVoting in 2003
We run 3 channels: postal vote, iVote and polling station
In the Geneva case, the rationale for internet voting is turnout increase.
Expressed the other way round, it is the search for a better service to the
citizens in the field of political rights.
It is often considered, at least in in the West, that voting or exercising
one's political rights is not a service given by the State and that therefore
the form voting takes is not an issue. It needs neither modernizing nor
improving. We think it is a mistake: organising a ballot is a service that the
State delivers to the community and there is no reason it should not be
treaded as such and delivered in the most efficient manner.
There is another reason why internet voting is an important issue in the
relationship between the public and the administration or the authorities: it
helps fighting disenfranchisement. Disabled people, blind people would of
course take advantage of it; but we have noticed with the introduction of
postal voting that the delivery channel can affect the amount of users.
Postal voting is a very good example of this effect.
Here, we are in the heart of the citizen engagement issue, which is central
to this expert meeting.
There are two publics for iVoting:
The Swiss living abroad and the Swiss residents
35% to 50% of all votes cast from abroad are electronic
iVoting makes a qualitative difference in offering Swiss
expatriates an effective way to cast their ballot
iVoting makes a qualitative difference for expatriates
15% to 20% of all votes casts locally are electronic
iVoting makes a paradigmatic difference for Swiss residents
Their reason for using it is a lifestyle issue
Abstainers' lifestyle makes them more likely to use iVoting
The percentage of online ballots for expatriates is for instance higher in Basel,
where there are no commuters living over the border, than in Geneva, where
The condition of expatriate is set to become a temporary rule in many a life. In
our globalised world indeed, expatriation is more and more part of study curricula,
professional careers and sentimental lives.
Actually, in the surveys we conducted in the framework of the first 2 online ballots
for expatriates, 54% of the respondents said that they were permanent residents
abroad and 40% that they were commuters working in Geneva and living in
France. The rest are mostly students completing a term abroad.
We are already weaving a web of relations spanning over several countries if not
several continents. Our communities are no longer geographical; our identity
does not anymore depend from the place where we live. In the process, we do
not lose our original self; on the contrary. One deepens his outlook on his culture
and country of origin by being confronted to other ways of thinking, doing and
This question is more and more being asked not only by expatriates, but also by
governments feeling they have an opportunity in reaching to their expatriates.
They understand that by empowering their citizens living abroad, they turn them
into ambassadors. The benefit is obvious and bears a catchy name: it is called
soft power, according to the concept carved by Professor Joseph Nye of Harvard
Swiss abroad: an overview
Swiss living abroad have been granted
political rights in 1975
By lack of practical solution, this law could not be
enforced until postal voting arrived 20 years later
680'000 Swiss citizens live abroad
500'000 are over 18 and might vote
Only 125'000 are registered on the voting lists,
this number grows regularly and we expect iVoting
to give it a boost
Residents' registration is automatic, expatriates' one is not
Although iVoting offers expatriates a practical advantage, while it offers a
subjective advantage to residents, in both case it helps us reaching farther
(people farther from politics among residents, people farther from Switzerland in
terms of postal delays for expatriates) and new constituencies.
It must be emphasised that, as Switzerland did not have a colonial past nor led
expansion wars, the overwhelming majority of our expatriates are truly Swiss.
This makes it easier to consider giving them political rights. Besides, the need for
registration for expatriates introduces a "natural" discriminating factor between
those who are interested and those who are not.
Out of the 26 cantons, some 10 give then cantonal political rights next to the
federal one and 3 give them communal political rights.
iVoting adoption by Geneva expatriates
A quick summary of online votes shows that three quarters originated in France,
where there is a very strong Swiss community, notably of commuters living over
the border from Geneva. From the 16'000 Genevans living in France, we
estimate that 6000 live over the border.
Next come in decreasing order the United States with roughly 5% of all online
votes, Spain, Great Britain, Germany, Canada, Italy and Belgium.
If I take the reverse approach and look for the countries where online votes were
predominant, Japan is number one with two thirds of all online ballots, followed
closely by the United States, Netherland, Belgium, Portugal, Canada, Australia,
Spain, Germany Great Britain, the Czech Republic, Italy, Greece and France.
Lowest share: 20% South Africa
Highest: 100% (Nordic Countries, Eastern European countries, Korea, Cyprus)
Illustration 100 50
100 100 67
100 42 % % %
% BUL CRO SW 50
58 % 55 UK %
IRE % 61
CDN % % 60 100 64
63 55 46 NL GER %
% % % TCH % %
32 SLO 100 Jap
USA P SP % 33 33
33 F % % %
Share of votes cast online, country by country for the Sept. 2009 ballot
This map illustrates how far we reached with our application. There is obviously a public out there
in the world waiting for us to offer a practical solution for the exercise of its political rights.
You may know the concept of Soft Power, carved by Joseph Nye, political science professor at
Harvard. It is the seduction force of countries, the positive and forward looking image they are
able to project outside of their borders. iVoting and the direct democracy is an important element
of Switzerland's soft power, although we are just beginning offering it to our citizens abroad.
Only one African country appears on the map, the Republic of South Africa, and only a handful of
Asian counties. Why? For Africa, this may reflect the situation of internet access in the continent,
but it is actually also a consequence of the federal government decision to allow online voting only
from EU countries, or countries that have ratified the Wassenaar arrangement on the export of
dual-use goods and service. This international agreement serves as an indicator of countries that
respect freedom of speech and free circulation of information.
Electronic encryption is a “dual use service”, meaning that it has both a civilian and a military use.
It is therefore regulated by an international treaty called the Wassenaar Agreement. As a
consequence and since we use military-grade encryption, we can only provide access to our
online voting platform to the Swiss living in the European Union or in one of the countries that
signed this agreement. This may sound restrictive, but it actually covers some 95% of our
Connected to their homeland
This image shows in corrected time the moment of the day when expatriates
voted. You may think it is anecdotal, yet I included it as it shows in my opinion the
normality of voting for expatriates.
If I look at the way I function, I perform during the day the task related to my daily
life and at night the more personal businesses or those which require some
thinking or information searching.
Assuming this is a fairly regular pattern of activities, this image shows that most
(about 70%) expatriates who voted online in September and November last year
did so during office hours, that is during their main flow of activities. Although
Switzerland was a geographically distant occurrence to them, they acted as if it
were a business as usual issue. In this respect, I find this chart very interesting.
We took the opportunity of this ballot to conduct a socio-political study. More than half the
expatriate voters filled our questionnaire and 75% of them said that internet voting will bring them
closer to their home country.
The Swiss expatriates organisation (http://www.aso.ch/, a semi-public body) is
building on this observation and planning an online social networking platform for
expatriates to be launched later in 2010. The federal government had launched
10 years ago www.swissinfo.ch, a web site that offers political information about
Switzerland tailored for expatriates.
iVoting is the 30‐39 years old main voting channel
What is interesting here is that the distribution of iVoting use among expatriates
according to their age is exactly the same as the distribution among Swiss
residents as shown by a previous study by the Geneva university (see
The qualitative effect does not affect the patterns of use among the expatriates.
They just use iVoting in a more massive way than the residents.
The share of those saying they would have voted anyway is the almost exact
percentage given by studies conducted in Geneva with residents.
iVoting is the main voting channel for the 30-39 years old. In Geneva, we have
noticed it to be the main channel for the 50-59. The assumption according which
iVoting is the way of the young proves therefore wrong.
Vote with the majority
This chart shows the percentage of "yes" vote to
the questions asked in the Sept. and Nov. 2009 ballots
The expatriates' choices is largely similar
to the residents' choices
Only on issues dealing with openness to the world
is there a difference to be noticed
•disability insurance: proposal to increase the value-added tax rate to pay for the
deficit of this insurance
•Citizen's initiative: referendum on the abandonment of one form of direct
democracy instrument that was never used because it is quite impracticable
•Air traffic: Federal government decision of 3.10.2008 for the creation of a fund to
finance the extension of airports
•Munitions: Citizen's initiative of 21.9.2007 "For the prohibition of the export of
•Minarets: Citizen's initiative of 8.7.2008 "Against the construction of minarets".
On this topic, there is striking difference in the vote of residents and expatriates.
Although both repelled the ban of minarets, the expatriates did it by a far larger
A tropism to the centre
When asked about
their political positioning,
iVote using expatriates
tend to locate themselves
in the centre
While it is true that
they are less polarized
than resident voters,
the real distribution is
the opposite of this one
Citizens tend to concentrate
in the extremities
There might be here a bias of the survey
When asked about their political positioning, expatriates tend to gather to the
centre. Yet, for elections they do not vote in a very different way than the
residents. Therefore, I suppose there is a bias in theses answers. The bias could
be of two sorts:
-people tend to smoothen their real political positioning in answering the
-only model citizens responded to the survey and this explains why we have this
I do not think that this shows a bias in the political preferences of the iVote users,
because others surveys have shown that the political preference has no impact
on the choice of the voting channel (except for those supporting the SVP-UDC
Extending iVoting to more expatriates
The conception of the Geneva platform
allows a great deal of versatility
Geneva took advantage of this to propose
other Swiss cantons to host their citizens on its system
We currently have a partnership with three cantons
representing some 25'000 expatriate voters
in addition to ours
By charging for maintenance and development,
Geneva has cut its own expenses
The joint project management is an added security factor
because it forces Geneva to optimise its procedures
Geneva owns the intellectual property of its iVoting application. That is why we
can offer it to other interested parties, whether Swiss cantons of foreign entities.
The hosting illustrated
Hosted canton Hosting canton
Ballot type (date, topic, etc). 1
Voters id / authentication
Electoral 2 of the hosted
Voting material Print file
Voters Voting cards
Results – Turnout
Postal voting recording
What it costs us
The initial investment was 2 millions Swiss francs
(roughly same amount in 2010 dollars)
The maintenance and development
is roughly 15% of that amount per year
The 150 K Swiss francs hardware
has to be renewed
every 4 to 5 years
We have a team of 5 people
working on this project
We will be saving money
as soon as 30'000 residents use the system
Thank you for your attention