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New platform gives foreigners in Switzerland 'chance to vote'

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New platform gives foreigners in Switzerland 'chance to vote'
The platform aims to boost political participation but could face a legal challenge. File photo: AFP
13:57 CEST+02:00
Two students in Zurich have developed an online platform designed to give people without a political voice in Switzerland a chance to cast a vote.

The blockchain-based platform called Vote Tandem works by allowing people with the right to vote in Switzerland to “donate” their vote to the “politically excluded”.

This includes groups like people aged under 18 and the homeless. Crucially, it also includes the 25 percent of the Swiss population who are foreigners and are therefore barred from voting in both national elections and the country’s regular referendums.

Vote Tandem is the Bachelor project of Vinzenz Leutenegger and Daniel Holler, both students of Interaction Design at Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK).

Read also: The huge foreigner-sized hole in Swiss democracy

“Our main aim is to boost political participation in Switzerland and create a discourse that boosts that participation,” Leutenegger told The Local.

To take part in the project, Swiss voters and people who don’t have the right to vote must sign up on the Vote Tandem website. This involves installing a browser extension and creating a secure account.

Once they have registered, Swiss voters make a vote available while non-voters can choose from a list of upcoming national votes that they might wish to have a say in.

The next stage of the process is the most important part. It sees the vote giver and the vote recipient meet to discuss the issue or issues involved.  At the end of this meeting, the Swiss voter fills out the ballot paper and signs it. 

Personalized ballot papers are sent to all Swiss voters well in advance of elections or referendums and most people send in postal votes.

The votes submitted after a meeting set up through Vote Tandem would contain the name and signature of a registered Swiss voter but would show the voting choice of a person without the right to vote. In effect, a non-voter would be casting the ballot.

But the projects founders are keen to stress there should no pressure or obligations on either party.

Read also: Why does Switzerland have so many referendums and how do they work?

“No one has to do anything they don’t want to do – whether that is the Swiss vote holder or the person being given the vote. This is important both in safety terms and for democratic reasons,” Leutenegger said.

The project's founders also hope these meetings will lead to increased awareness of the issues around foreigners and voting rights in Switzerland.

“At present, people don’t even have to think about who should have the right to vote. But we want people to consider this issue,” Leutenegger told The Local.

“We don’t want to give an answer. We want to include as many people as possible in the discussion.”

Critics argue the Vote Tandem project could be illegal. The Swiss Criminal Code states it is against the law to accept gifts or favours in return for voting a certain way. Voting without authority to do so is also a crime.

Both are punishable by prison terms of up to three years.

The Federal Chancellery told Swiss news site 20 Minuten that it would be “up to the courts to decide if this sort of opinion-forming is against the law."

But Leutenegger says the Vote Tandem project is about making Swiss democracy stronger.

Read also: Ten things you need to know about the Swiss political system

“We believe in the voting system in Switzerland. So we want to strengthen it,” he said.

“However, there is more to democracy than just voting. It is also about finding out about other people’s opinions."

To date, few Swiss voters have signed up to the Vote Tandem project but the hope is that it will gain traction when voters start to receive ballot papers for upcoming national votes.

 
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