Participation rate of Swiss abroad in the national elections drops further after suspension of electronic voting

On 20 October 2019, Swiss citizens elected a new National Council and voted in the first round of elections for the Council of States. While this was reported as a ‘historic election’, only 45.1 percent of the Swiss citizens went to the polls. This figure is in line with previous elections: turnout in Swiss parliamentary elections has been steadily declining since the 1970s. In recent years voter participation has been slowly growing again, but the participation rate remains below 50%.

Turnout is particularly low among the Swiss citizens living abroad. Currently, all Swiss citizens living abroad have the right to vote for their National Councillors and, in some cantons[1], they also retain the right to vote for their members for the Council of States, the second chamber of the Swiss parliament that represents the cantons. This makes for a significant proportion of the electorate: according to the latest figures of the Swiss Federal Office of Statistics, Swiss citizens abroad constitute about 10 per cent the electorate. Yet, the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) shows that on average less than one out of four Swiss citizen abroad voted in the 2019 elections.

The OSA points out that such low figures can be partially explained with the abandonment of electronic voting in the four cantons[2]  where this practice was introduced as a pilot experiment in 2015. In these cantons the participation rate fell by about 10%, leading to an average participation rate of the Swiss abroad of around 20%.

Electronic voting was dropped in 2019 for security reasons. The government has decided to suspend efforts to legislate on this issue, but it plans to carry out other pilot experiments in the future.

For more information on the electoral rights in Switzerland consult our databases: Conditions for Electoral Rights and ELECLAW. For detailed information on electoral rights across the Swiss cantons consult the nccr – on the move indicators SWISSCIT.

[1] Aargau, Bern, Basel-Land, Basel-Stadt, Fribourg, Geneva, Grisons, Jura, Neuchatel, Schwyz Solothurn, Tessin, Zurich.

[2] Basel-Stadt, Geneva, Lucerne and Neuchâtel.