Parliament launches debate about postal vote

The postal vote is free of charge for citizens in Zurich, Geneva and Basel but many other cantons leave it up to the local authorities whether to make citizens pay for a stamp Keystone

The government faces pressure to consider streamlining the nationwide procedure for postal votes in Switzerland.

This content was published on March 8, 2018 - 16:24

The House of Representatives has come out in favour of a proposal demanding that the authorities across the country send envelopes with pre-paid postage to citizens eligible to take part in votes and elections.

The plan by a parliamentarian of the rightwing Swiss People’s Party on Wednesday won the support of 108 colleagues, including members of the leftwing Social Democratic Party and the Green Party. 

The Senate still has to confirm the decision.

The proponent, Yvette Estermann, argued that research had shown that turnout drops by 2% in municipalities without pre-paid postage compared with municipalities which add paid-for-return envelopes to the vote or election papers delivered to households.

She said it was not primarily a financial concern for citizens. “It is not about the CHF0.85 ($0.90) postage stamp. It’s because many household do not keep stamps.”

Personal investment

However, the Federal Chancellor Walter Thurnherr told parliament that buying a stamp was a low hurdle for voters. He added that citizens could also take the envelope themselves to the local townhall or the polling booth.

“Our democracy is based on a personal investment. There is no reason for the government to pay for the postage to promote democracy.”

Thurnherr said most ballots are cantonal or local issues, but he did not rule out considering a system with shared costs.

In a written answer, the government also pointed out that it was up to cantons and municipalities to organise public ballots according to Switzerland’s federalist system.

Currently pre-paid return envelopes are sent to voters in nine cantons, including Zurich and Geneva, and an unspecified number municipalities in the other 17 cantons.

The postal vote was introduced in Switzerland in 1994 and is used by an estimated 90% of the electorate. 

About ten years later, extended trials were launched with electronic voting, notably for the Swiss Abroad community. But the system of e-voting has come under increasing pressure amid IT security concerns. 

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