ELECTIONS AND VOTES
In Switzerland, the people have more say in how the country is run than in almost any other country in the world. All Swiss citizens who are 18 or over have the right to vote at national level. In addition to the parliamentary elections, which are held every four years, the electorate can express its views up to four times a year in popular votes on specific political issues. In most cases, there are several proposals to be voted on at each ballot.
The Constitution and laws
A vote must be held on any amendment to the Constitution (mandatory referendum). Amendments to the Constitution require the consent of a majority of the People and of the cantons (double majority). On the other hand, a vote is only held on a revised or new law if a referendum is demanded. The new law is accepted if a majority of the electorate vote in favour of it (simple majority).
Federal votes and elections 2020
In 2020, federal ballots will be held on the following Sundays:
9 February, 17 May, 27 September and 29 November.
The Federal Council decides at least four months in advance which proposals will be voted on.
Federal elections are held every four years. The last elections took place on 20 October 2019.
Electing and being elected
Anyone who is eligible to vote is not only entitled to vote in the elections to Parliament, but can also stand as a candidate in the elections. Swiss citizens living abroad are also eligible to vote in elections to the National Council and, in some cantons, the Council of States.
National Council and Council of States
The 200 members of the National Council and the 46 members of the Council of States are elected directly by the people. Elections are held every four years by secret ballot. The only exception is the canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden, where the People’s Assembly (Landsgemeinde) still chooses its representative in the Council of States by a show of hands.
- Turnout in the 2019 federal elections was 45% (2015: 48%).
- In 2019, 4645 women and men stood for election to the National Council (2015: 3788)
- At federal level, women have had the right to vote since 1971.
Changing the Constitution
Citizens can launch a popular initiative to demand a change to the Constitution – but not to any other form of law. Any Swiss citizen who is eligible to vote can sign a popular initiative, and a group of at least seven citizens (the initiative committee) can launch their own popular initiative.
Before a vote is held on a popular initiative, the initiative committee must collect 100,000 valid signatures in favour of the proposal within a period of 18 months. The Federal Council and Parliament will recommend whether the proposal should be accepted or rejected. For the proposal to be accepted, a majority of both the People and the cantons is needed (a double majority). If it is accepted, new legislation or an amendment to existing legislation is normally required to implement the new constitutional provision.
- Popular initiatives were introduced at federal level in 1891.
- 216 popular initiatives have been voted on since then. 22 have been accepted.
- As of 31.12.2019, 16 popular initiatives were at the signature collection stage, 16 were pending before the Federal Council or Parliament, and 3 were ready to be put to the vote.
Putting a stop to a new law
Parliament passes new legislation and amendments to existing legislation. Citizens can respond by calling for a referendum on new laws and against certain international treaties. The right to request a referendum is an important element in Swiss direct democracy.
Swiss citizens who are eligible to vote can sign a request for a referendum. For a referendum to be held, it must be demanded by eight cantons (referendum requested by the cantons) or 50,000 valid signatures must be collected within 100 days. The new law comes into force if a majority of those voting say yes (a simple majority). If the majority vote no, the current law continues to apply.
- The referendum was introduced in 1874.
- Since then, 190 optional referendums have been held; 80 of the proposals were rejected by voters.
- As of 31.12. 2019, the referendum period was running for 21 federal acts and decrees. Signatures were being gathered for a vote on 6 of the proposals.