Voting For Members

Swiss MPs refuse to extend voting rights for foreigners

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Swiss MPs refuse to extend voting rights for foreigners
A woman in the French-speaking part of Switzerland casts an envelope containing her ballot. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Switzerland's National Council has rejected two parliamentary initiatives that would have given foreigners in Switzerland more voting rights.


The Green party had demanded that foreigners who have been legally resident in Switzerland for five years be given the right to vote or stand for election at the federal level. Another initiative, by Social Democratic party (PS), had called for foreign residents to be granted full political rights at the municipal level — also after five years of residence.

PS MP Mustafa Atici argued that the involvement in political processes is an important part of integration, and many communities could benefit if more people could get involved in politics.

Supporters of the initiatives also pointed out that in a country that sees itself as a "model democracy", a quarter of its population — the proportion of foreigners living permanently in Switzerland — can’t participate in the political process.


However, the lower house of the parliament rejected the initiatives, suggesting instead that foreigners who have lived in Switzerland for a certain period of time become naturalised first and then practice their right to vote.

Currently, some cantons and communes give their resident foreigners the right to vote on local issues and to elect local politicians.

The Swiss-French cantons and municipalities seem to be ahead of their German-speaking counterparts in regards to voting rights.

The cantons of Fribourg, Vaud, Neuchâtel and Jura allow non-citizens to vote, elect officials, and stand for election at communal level. Conditions vary from one canton to another, but in most cases a certain length of stay and/or a residence permit are required.

In Vaud, for instance, where 30 percent of the population is foreign, immigrants can run for or sit on the communal or Town Council, as well as sign an initiative or a communal referendum.

However, in order to be eligible, they must be over 18 years of age (just like Swiss citizens), hold a residence permit for at least 10 years, and live in the canton for at least three years. 

All foreign nationals are directly entered in the electoral register once the requirements are met, and automatically receive the official material for votes and elections on a communal level. 


Geneva, which has the largest foreign population in Switzerland (45 percent), grants foreigners voting rights at communal level, but they can’t run for office. 

Basel, Graubünden, and Appenzell Ausserrhoden have authorised their communes to introduce the right to vote, the right to elect and the right to be elected. 

But few of the communes have actually introduced these measures.

In Graubünden, only 10 of the canton’s 208 municipalities are allowing foreigners to vote: Bever, Bonaduz, Calfreise, Cazis, Conters im Prättigau, Fideris, Lüen, Masein, Portein, and Schnaus.

Only three of Appenzell Ausserrhoden’s 20 municipalities— Wald, Speicher, and Trogen — granted voting rights to non-citizens.

READ MORE: Where in Switzerland can foreigners vote?


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