Friday, April 28, 2006

How to vote in National Elections: FAQ and Refresher

The next General Elections for Switzerland's National and State Council are not exactly imminent (Oktober 21, 2007) but you can never be too early in preparing yourself for the occasion. That's why is posting below a brief guide on voting in Switzerland. There are a few subliminal messages buried in it as to ease your burden of choice when election day comes, which I hope you'll excuse. Everything in life has a purpose, and so does this guide. Enjoy.

How can I vote?

First, as a Swiss abroad you need to be registered to vote. If you aren't, it might be a good idea to get yourself registered soon. Contact your residential country's Swiss embassy on how to register (you can also find information on the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) site) . You'll be registered as a voter in the town/village where you have "ties" to of some sort (e.g. you lived there before you left the country, your parents live there, etc.). Your vote will be counted like a resident's of that place, i.e. there isn't a special "Swiss Abroad" vote count.

What is the fastest/easiest way to vote for a party?

Tear off the list of the party of your choice (i.e. the Greens *hint* *hint*) and stuff it into the envelope provided. Modifications (striking, doubling names) are usually unnecessary, because the lists are carefully prepared by the parties (where "prepared" is an euphemism for "battled-over" :-). Incidentally, the initial estimates published by the voting districts are usually based on the number of unmodified ballots.

What if I don't like a candidate?

You can strike the name of a candidate you dislike. Note that the party still receives the vote (empty lines are still a vote for the party). See the Refresher.

What if I like one or several candidate(s) from a different list (or different lists)?

You can replace a candidate on a printed list by one from a different list by striking a name on the list and writing the other candidate's number and full name in its place. This way, the other candidate and the candidate's party get the vote. See the Refresher.

Can I push a candidate I like particularly?

There's only little slack in the system for "tactical voting". You can "double" a candidate to give him/her two votes instead of only one (see Refresher).

The most you can do to promote one or a few candidates of a party is to follow this procedure: take the empty ballot, write the name of the party on top (thus giving it all party votes on the list), and then "double" the names of all candidates you like (i.e. write each on two lines). Giving the party all the votes slightly increases the chances that there's a spare seat for your candidate(s) to occupy, and "doubling" your candidates will give each of them "2 votes more" (i.e. 2 instead of 0) than everybody else on their list. Not quite a truckload, but every bit counts, especially, if you band together in your family or among friends :-)

Can I vote for someone who's not on a list?

No, you can't. The lists have to be submitted by the parties for approval at the electoral offices in the cantons, together with a certain number of signatures of voters endorsing the list (e.g. 400 signatories in Zürich). This is to avoid hoax lists such as "Beer Drinker's Association" or "Enlightenment and Plurality", usually carrying only a few candidates -- and gathering only a handful of votes. You can vote for any of the candidates on any of the lists, but only for those.

Can I vote for the guy who makes these pages?

You'd have to convince the Greens of the Canton of Zurich to put him on their ballot (he's registered in Zurich). I can assist you with that ... ;-)

Election Refresher

In Switzerland, there's an electoral system of proportional representation where seats in parliament are allocated to parties according to their strength (number of ballots cast for the party). After it is established how many seats each of the parties gets, a particular party's seats are assigned to the candidates with the most votes.

A ballot list contains a number of lines, usually pre-filled with the names of some party's candidates. The number of lines reflects the number of representatives that that particular canton can send to Berne (e.g. ZH has 34 members of parliament. Therefore, there are 34 lines on the ballot).

Each line of the ballot represents both a vote for the candidate on that line and a vote for the candidate's party. Empty lines still represent a vote for the party whose name is on top of the list. If there's no party name there (as is on the blank ballot unless you add one) these votes are lost. Remember, that it's the number of party votes that determines how many candidates a party can send to Berne.

A ballot must have at least one name on it, i.e. striking all names or filling-in just a party name on the blank ballot without also adding a name voids the ballot. If a ballot carries more names than lines, names will be deleted from the "end" (i.e. the ballot is still valid).

Pre-filled ballots can be left alone or modified as follows:

  • You can strike people you don't want to vote for, making the line empty (still counts as party vote).
  • You can double a candidate by writing his/her name a second time. A candidate cannot appear more than twice, however (no "tripling", "quadrupling", ... "quattuor-et-trigintupling").
  • You can import candidates from other lists onto your list, thus giving the vote away to the candidate and his/her party. This is called cross-voting (or in french panacher). Doubling an imported candidate is, of course, possible, too.

Note that you need not strike names on the list if you double or "panache" candidates (but it's a good habit nonetheless). When the ballot is counted, the added names will push the printed ones "off the list".

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