An e-voting system for Switzerland and by Switzerland

An e-voting system for Switzerland and by Switzerland 22.06.2020

In the autumn of 2019, Swiss Post decided to continue developing the e-voting system for Switzerland independently. Since then, it has acquired the rights to the e-voting source code from its former technology partner, Scytl. Swiss Post will publish the new, enhanced source code. In doing so, it will focus on maintaining transparency and involving the specialist community.

The Swiss cantons believe their populations have a growing need for an electronic voting system. As a public service provider, Swiss Post has assumed the task of providing a third voting channel. Swiss Post has been active in the field of e-voting since 2014. Its previous system was used successfully until 2019 in the cantons of Thurgau, Neuchâtel, Basel-Stadt and Fribourg. Swiss Post has been working on setting up its new system since last summer.

Independent development

In autumn 2019, negotiations began between Swiss Post and its former technology partner, Scytl. In April 2020, Swiss Post finally acquired all rights to the source code necessary for independent development of the system. “This decision will enable us to provide the cantons with a solution developed in Switzerland for Switzerland,” says Claudia Pletscher, Head of Development & Innovation at Swiss Post.

By continuing to develop the system independently, Swiss Post will, as an enterprise affiliated with the Confederation, create the precondition for incorporating the numerous features of Switzerland’s federal system into the development process while better meeting the stringent specific requirements for a Swiss e-voting system. With this step, Swiss Post is also showing that it has understood the concerns expressed about the role of foreign suppliers in the public e-voting debate.

Enhancing cryptographic expertise

Beyond the e-voting system, Swiss Post also intends to offer simple, secure and trustworthy handling of digital information. This will only be possible if cryptography is one of its core competencies. Swiss Post has opted to develop its e-voting system at its long-standing IT site in Neuchâtel, which it has continually developed and enhanced with the required competencies.

Knowledge transfer and outside view

Swiss Post is developing the e-voting system independently, but not alone. On the contrary: it is increasingly collaborating with Swiss universities of applied sciences, universities and experts. Furthermore, it is also working closely with the IT community. “We want to make it as easy as possible for independent experts to critically assess the system and, in turn, to suggest improvements,” says Denis Morel, Head of E-voting at Swiss Post.

More transparency, greater security

Swiss Post will publish the source code continuously, iteratively and openly. It also places great importance on transparency. Through a range of transparency measures, Swiss Post wants to maximize the security of the e-voting system in stages:

  • definition and implementation of the new disclosure with the inclusion of cantons and experts
  • publication of a compilable system
  • improvement of the documentation and auditability of the system
  • opportunities to simulate contests
  • simplified access to the code and a streamlining of the terms and conditions of use

Cantons to decide on introduction

Swiss Post expects the new system to be developed to such an extent over the course of 2021 that it completely meets the requirements of the Confederation and is ready for use by the cantons. The cantons alone will decide if and when they want to provide their voters with the electronic voting solution. The new Swiss Post e-voting system will be the first system in Switzerland in which votes are entirely verifiable (universal verifiability).

A logical step

It is not by chance that Swiss Post is focusing on the topic of e-voting; it is, to a certain extent, part of the company’s “genetic make-up”. Swiss Post has been bound by mail secrecy for more than 170 years. With its e-voting system, it has applied this fundamental obligation to the digital world, enabling it to meet one of the population’s needs. This is something that Swiss Post has done with success for many years in other fields – such as the IncaMail e-mail encryption service, the now discontinued SuisseID and payment transactions.