Direct democracy is no computer game

Launch of the federal popular initiative “For a secure and trustworthy democracy (e-voting moratorium)”

by Dr iur. Marianne Wüthrich

After years of trials in various cantons and communes, the result is on the table: e-voting has proved unsuitable in every respect. Nevertheless, the Federal Council has been insisting for two years on the widespread introduction of e-voting.1 In June 2018, it stated that, in the opinion of its expert group, electronic voting “could be developed as a secure and trustworthy voting channel”. Indeed, it spoke of “more than 200 successful attempts”2 in the country and did not say a single word about the numerous serious breakdowns due to which various software had to be taken out of circulation and many cantons have abolished e-voting again or not introduced it at all. Even the many critical responses received during the consultation process in the autumn of 2018 did not succeed in making the Federal Council see reason.
In order to put a stop to these proceedings in Federal Berne, the collection of signatures for the popular initiative for an e-voting moratorium was launched on 16 March 2019.
In the most glorious spring weather, the initiative committee gathered at the archway on the Bahnhofplatz in Lucerne for the “kick-off event”: a cheerful and highly motivated group of politicians across all political parties, and other citizens, most of them from the IT sector, almost all of them under the age of 30.
It is now up to us citizens to make the initiative known: collecting 100,000 signatures means hundreds of thousands of face to face discussions. In the following you will read the initiative text and the main arguments for the initiative, as well as the recording of my discussions with the president of the initiative committee, National Councillor Franz Grüter (SVP LU – Swiss People’s Party, Lucerne), and with Hernani Marques of the Chaos Computer Club Switzerland, and also statements by committee members Jonas Ineichen, vice-president Juso LU (Young Social Democrats, Lucerne), and Simon Schlauri, Cantonal Councillor Grünliberale (GLP ZH – Green Liberal Party Zurich)

“Pull the plug on e-voting!”

This is the slogan with which the initiators are going public. The initiative calls for an immediate ban on electronic voting all across the Confederation, the cantons and communes, following a yes vote by the sovereign (Article 39 para. 1bis new and para. 1 of the transitional provision). After a five-year moratorium at the earliest, the Federal Assembly can lift the ban by means of a federal law, subject to an optional referendum (para. 3 of the transitional provision). However, this would underlie strict conditions: It would have to be guaranteed that at least the same security against manipulation acts exists as with handwritten voting (para. 2 of the transitional provision). The exact conditions for lifting the ban on e-voting are listed in the initiative text in paragraph 2 lit. a-c of the transitional provision.

Democracy needs trust

This is the yardstick by which the initiative committee measures electronic voting and finally rejects it. The paper ballots are counted at least twice by a team of members of the various political parties and other citizens and are then sealed and stored in the communes. If necessary, they can be recounted at any time.
 The electronically cast vote, on the other hand, “sinks into a digital sea of bytes and bits – only a few specialists understand how the votes are counted. The sovereign cannot understand the processes at all, and confidence is lost.”3

Confidence in the tellers – an example

On 10 February, the voters in Solothurn narrowly rejected the introduction of a communal parliament, with 2201 nays to 2192 ayes, (thus the city of Solothurn with its 16,000 inhabitants remains one of the few Swiss cities with a direct democratic communal assembly). According to the daily press, for example in the Canton of Zurich, a recount would be stringently required in the case of such a narrow decision (with a difference of only 9 votes). In Solothurn, on the other hand, the Pro Committee did not demand a recount, “after the city chancellery had assured them that there had been three counts, each one with a negative result; twice a difference of 9 votes had been counted, and once a difference of 15”.  (“Neue Zürcher Zeitung” of 11 February 2019)
This shows how great the confidence of the Swiss population is in their democracy and in their communal administration – we must not allow this treasure to be destroyed by a centralised and depersonalised system.    •

1    Press release issued by the Federal Council on 5 April 2017, also see “Why e-voting is bad for direct democracy” by Marianne Wüthrich, Dr iur., Current Concerns No. 11 of 18 May 2017
2    “E-Voting als ordentlicher Stimmkanal: Bundesrat plant Vernehmlassung für Herbst 2018 – E-voting as a proper voting channel: Federal Council plans consultation for autumn 2018”. Press release issued by the Federal Council on 27 June 2018
3    Federal popular initiative “For a secure and trustworthy democracy (e-voting moratorium)” Argumentarium of January 2019, p. 5 ( Below cited as “argumentarium”

Federal popular initiative “For a secure and trustworthy democracy (e-voting moratorium)”

The Federal Constitution is amended as follows:
Art. 39 para. 1bis
1bis  The use of electronic procedures for voting is forbidden.
Art. 197 No. 122
12. Transitional provision for Art. 39 para. 1bis (Use of electronic procedures for voting)
1 Article 39 para. 1bis shall enter into force on the date of its approval by the people and the cantons; with this approval all provisions of the cantonal and federal law on electronic methods of voting shall no longer be applicable.
2 The Federal Assembly may lift the ban by federal law, if at least the same security against manipulative acts can be assured as for handwritten voting in particular if, under the preservation of voting secrecy:
a.    the essential steps of electronic voting can be verified by those entitled to vote without special expertise;
b.    all voices are counted as they were submitted in accordance with the free and effective will of the voters and without outside influence; and
c.    the partial results of the electronic vote can be identified clearly and without bias, and, if necessary, reliably verified in recounts without special expertise, so that there can be no question of partial results which do not meet the requirements set out in points (a) and (b) being accepted.
3 The Federal Assembly may lift the ban at the earliest five years after its entry into force.
(Translation Current Concerns)