Debate on foreign voting rights revived in Geneva

More than 40% of the population in Geneva is excluded from cantonal ballots because they don't are not Swiss. This is an infographic from the website of DPGE - an association promoting political rights for all residents DPGE

A non-profit organisation promoting full civic rights for foreigners in Geneva is breaking new ground. It held a first consultative ballot, open to all those interested in having a say in political decisions.

This content was published on October 31, 2016 minutes

Nearly 600 people took part in the vote on October 15, according to the Geneva Association for Political RightsExternal link (known as DPGE in French). About half of the participants used the internet while the others went to polling stations set up in five municipalities in canton Geneva.

The final result showed 88% of voters coming out in favour of granting full voting rights to all residents in Geneva, 11% were opposed and 1% voted blank.

Turnout seems modest at first glance, but the DPGE campaigners are happy.

“We’re a very small association with little money. Unlike the authorities, we do not have information channels and our presence on social media is still very limited,” says Olga Baranova, member of the DPGE committee.

“In addition, it’s quite difficult to motivate citizens in Geneva,” she explains.

Relaunch discussion

The main aim of the group is to raise political awareness among citizens and encourage them to participate in the decision-making process. It is part of an effort to relaunch discussions about the right to vote for foreigners in Geneva.

Until now, non-Swiss residents have been able to use their democratic rights only at the communal level. The canton is divided into 45 municipalities which enjoy considerable autonomy, including decisions on local taxes, education and building projects.

Geneva has lost ground compared with most other cantons in the French-speaking region of Switzerland when it comes to foreigner voting rights.

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This is unacceptable for a canton with the highest percentage of foreigners (41%) in western Switzerland, the DPGE argues.

Non-Swiss citizens have the right to vote on cantonal issues in Neuchâtel and Jura. Cantons Vaud and Fribourg have been making progress, while the issue has been stalled in Geneva for the past 11 years.


The DPGE feels encouraged by the October ballot, but it is aware that much more needs to be done in Geneva, the European seat of the United Nations and many other international organisations which employ foreign staff.

“The political left is not strong enough on its own to win this battle. We have to try to convince other parties,” says Baranova. She sits in the Geneva City parliament for the Social Democrats.

The idea of organising further consultative ballots could be the way ahead for the time being.

“We will now analyse the situation and then decide on the next steps,” Baranova says.

“One option is to organise a consultative ballot on a different topic every 12 months. It could be an issue put to a cantonal vote for Swiss citizens.”

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