Innovation & technology
“Our aim is to find and resolve vulnerabilities at an early stage”
Swiss Post has been independently developing its e-voting system since 2020. Denis Morel, Head of E-Government at Swiss Post, explains why Swiss Post is disclosing its system in stages in 2021 and when the cantons will be able to use it
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What is e-voting and why is Swiss Post involved with it in Switzerland?
Electronic voting refers to a third voting channel in Switzerland which enables voters to cast their ballot online regardless of their location (e.g. from home). It is intended as a supplement to postal voting and voting at the ballot box. E-voting is core business for Swiss Post. Even in the digital world, Swiss Post offers exactly what it does best: the secure transport of confidential information ― and not just with e-voting, but also with other digital services like the e-mail encryption service IncaMail.
The Federal Council has just relaunched the e-voting project after the proposal suffered a setback in 2019. Does that surprise you?
No, I’m not surprised. Ultimately, it’s just a matter of time before electronic voting really takes hold. There have been trials involving e-voting in Switzerland since 2003 and in these 18 years, the Confederation and the cantons have gained a lot of experience. So it’s easy to understand why a reorganization that takes into account the latest insights from the research is now needed.
Practically at the same time, Swiss Post decided to gradually open its e-voting system. What does this mean in specific terms?
There’s no direct connection. Swiss Post is using public verification to enable vulnerabilities to be efficiently and effectively resolved in e-voting. It is publishing all of the system components and helpful documentation and is working together with external professionals. This process is intended to recognize vulnerabilities early on and rectify them. We have published the pilot version of the e-voting system in multiple steps since the beginning of the year. Since then, community participation has picked up, and thanks to reports from national and international experts, we have been able to implement several different improvements.
After the summer, the permanent public bug bounty programme on e-voting will start. This program allows participants to apply for financial compensation in return for submitting confirmed vulnerabilities. An intrusion test that will allow attacks on the infrastructure for a limited period of time will also be led by Swiss Post, most likely at the beginning of autumn.
What advantages and risks does e-voting present for a democracy?
A big advantage is that certain groups in society can participate in the democratic process more easily. I’m thinking about people with disabilities or Swiss citizens resident abroad, for example. Because the system only accepts valid votes, e-voting also helps to reduce the number of invalid votes that are inadvertently submitted. And the trend towards doing everything digitally ― anytime and anywhere ― is also pointing in the direction of e-voting. The risk of manipulation is always cited among the dangers of e-voting. However, on the one hand, this risk can be minimized using the latest cryptographic techniques. On the other hand, there are also risks with postal voting and voting at the ballot box. The important thing here is trust in the voting process. Personally, I think the biggest risk in the digital age is the manipulation that takes place when voters are forming their opinion — specifically with fake news on social media, which is an issue we still need to grapple with as a society.
When will the Swiss Post system be available for the cantons?
Our goal is for the system to be ready for use in the cantons in the course of 2022.
Is e-voting already widely used across the world?
Switzerland is one of the pioneering countries and has the highest security requirements. Estonia is by far the leader in this field. Other countries such as Norway, France and Australia have tested e-voting or introduced it at a regional level.