Accusations of fraud frame final Jura votes

Jura or Bern? Two municipalities will decide on Sunday

Sorvilier and Belprahon, two small Bernese municipalities, are deciding whether to join the canton of Jura. In so doing, they would follow the lead of the town of Moutier, though challenges to its vote of June 18 are still pending.

This content was published on September 16, 2017

All possible precautions had nevertheless been taken. Eight months before the vote, population monitors had begun to take note of new arrivals to the town, in an effort to avoid so-called “electoral tourism” (people registering in a municipality without actually settling there). 

Between them, local and cantonal authorities announced the registration of a grand total of 20 new people, bringing the overall electorate to 4,579: a minor increase. 

As for postal votes, these were sent not to Moutier but directly to Bern, to the Federal Office of Justice (FOJ), where they were kept in a locked box. And in Moutier itself, the day of the vote, the count took place in a single voting centre and was overseen by federal observers. 

Finally, despite some contentious cases – some votes cast by people found to be deceased, one case of out-and-out fraud – the total was just 10 void ballots, and the observers validated the overall result the evening of June 18. 

However, as expected for such an emotive and tight vote (just 137 votes swung the result in favour of joining Canton Jura), some people have taken the outcome badly and are looking for cases of fraud. 

In the weeks following the result, the cantonal authorities registered no less than 12 challenges, some individuals even handing in several different ones. The complaints focused mainly on the issue of balance in the campaign, but also on the checking of voter IDs and possible ballot fraud. 

One citizen even demanded that the outcome be calculated according to the number of voters registered, and not the number of votes actually cast! Such an idiosyncratic conception of democracy, if applied at the national level, would surely invalidate the large majority of federal votes, where average turnout rates hover around 45%.

The last lap 

The inquiries by the Bernese public prosecutor into these claimed irregularities have not yet been finalised, although it is difficult to envisage that the outcome could lead to a full reholding of the vote. Moutier’s fate is clear. 

Yet the ‘Jura question’ is not completely sorted. Aside from Moutier, two other municipalities had also seized upon the opportunity presented by a 2013 poll about voting on cantonal affiliation. And thus, Sunday September 17, the 600 or so residents of Belprahon and Sorvilier will go to the polls.

In the first municipality, Belprahon, often considered a ‘chic suburb’ of Moutier, the hearts of the population seem to be tending naturally towards Canton Jura.

 But in the second, everybody is expecting a very tight result. And in the case of adhesion to Canton Jura, Sorvilier would effectively become an enclave in Bernese territory, something which has led certain residents to freely admit they would leave the village.

Yes, electoral fraud happens in Switzerland too

Despite a reputation for democratic exactitude, mishaps have sometimes affected Swiss votes in the past. For example, the collection of signatures for the deposition of a People’s initiative (100,000 are necessary) can lead to forgeries, although the Federal Chancellery does its best to weed them out.

Elsewhere, some well-known examples in recent years include Glarus, where in 2010 a recount was ordered following the discovery that several ballots were filled-out by the same person. The result: the conservative right Swiss People’s Party had to cede one of the seats it initially won.

In Bern, in 2016, 300 votes in local elections were declared void after investigators discovered they all had the same handwriting. And in Valais, the following year, 119 irregularities were found in three municipalities in an election that saw well-known politician Oscar Freysinger lose his seat. The margin of loss (2,000 votes) dissuaded his followers from pursuing the case.

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