3 März 2021

I was reading an article in the newspaper this week that really took me surprise. So I had to do a little more research. It was concerning voting rights. There are some cantons in Switzerland that allow non citizens to vote. In some instances non citizens can even run for office. Of course there are some limitations. The first being that non citizens are unable to vote for national races or referenda. Other limitations vary by the canton, but there are residency requirements that must be met. For example, in Geneva a non citizen has to have lived there for 8 years before they are eligible to vote. In two Cantons, foreigners can even run for canton level office. Think about how that would fly in the US. A non citizen as Governor of your state…

I admit I am confused how this came to be, but I think it goes back to when Switzerland adopted their Constitution back in 1848. The Constitution specifies that you had to be a male citizen and be 18 years old to vote in a federal election. For women reading this. Switzerland was VERY late in the game for granting women the right to vote. Suffrage in Switzerland was not granted until 1971!! Anyway, the Constitution only talked about national elections. The first Canton that granted voting rights to non citizens was Jura in 1978. However (and I admit I have not spent hours searching), I could not find even a court case that granted these rights. Jura became a canton in 1978, and the voting issue was part of their cantonal constitution. Again, from what I can find. Jura just decided that the Federal Laws did not say anything about voting rights at the canton level or below, so we are just going to let people vote.

These expanded rights are very much based by region. The French and Italian areas have very much embraced non citizens voting. The German speaking areas, not so much. In fact Zürich tried to pass a law back in the mid 90’s, but 75% of the voters turned it down. Other german speaking cantons have also tried to pass this change, but those votes have also failed by wide margins.

So the proposal in front of Parliament right now is to allow non citizens who have lived in Switzerland for at least 5 years, and have a long term residency permit the ability to vote. Odds are the proposal will never make it out of Parliament. Even if it did go to a vote the odds of it passing are probably pretty slim. I mean look at this way. There are (and these are all rough estimations) 8.5 million people living in Switzerland. Close to 2 million are foreign residents like me. Out of the remaining 6.5 million citizens there are approximately 4 million that are of voting age. The estimate for foreign nationals being able to vote is about 1.5 million. That is a HUGE number of people to add to the voting roles at one time. For a country that is so hell bent on ensuring that foreigners are assimilated to the culture, it just seems like a big stretch they would ever allow non Swiss people to vote.

Even though it is unlikely to pass, I am impressed that the country is actually having the discussion. I find it a refreshing contrast to what I read about the US, where one party seems to be trying to take the vote away from qualified citizens. It seems a bad idea, to me, that the parties idea to remain in control is to limit a democratic system instead of expand it.

I admit, I like the idea of being able to vote on local issues, but maybe because I do not have intentions to live here forever; I do not think I should have a say in national decisions.

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