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Manipulation of elections and votes

Electoral bribery, electoral fraud, vote catching: they can also happen in Switzerland. What is not permitted in elections and votes.

Filling out a ballot paper for someone else

Filling out a ballot paper for another person is a criminal offence – the penalty is a fine. The completion of a ballot paper by someone who is not entitled to do so constitutes an offence known in Switzerland as ‘vote catching’. Vote catching can also involve a complex form of electoral fraud: it is specifically defined as ‘systematically collecting, completing or altering ballot papers, or distributing ballot papers which have been completed or altered in this way’.

N.B.: In common parlance, ‘vote catching’ has a different meaning. The dictionary defines it as ‘the skill of attracting votes in an election’

In certain cantons there are exceptions to this rule: where a voter is permanently unable to write, another person can complete their ballot paper – the procedure and the requirements vary depending on the canton.

Voting assistance for the elderly, the ill and the disabled

If you want to find out more about this special procedure, contact your canton.

In addition to vote catching there are other more serious offences, each of which carries a custodial sentence of up to three years or a monetary penalty. These penalties are intended to ensure that the results of votes and elections correspond to the actual will of the people.

Making sure only eligible voters vote

First of all, it must be ensured that only people who are entitled to take part in a vote or an election do so. The electoral register in the communes provides information on who these eligible voters are. It is therefore an offence to forge, falsify, remove or destroy an electoral register. It is also an offence to take part in a vote or election without the authority to do so. This can happen when someone steals another person’s voting papers.

In some exceptional cases, people who have moved home may receive voting papers at their old and new addresses. Here again it is an offence to vote twice. Instead, the person concerned should return the voting papers that are no longer valid to their former commune.

Undue influence on voters

Voters must be free to decide who or what they want to vote for, or whether they vote at all. The Criminal Code prohibits the influencing of a vote or election by:

  • using violence
  • making serious threats
  • offering or accepting bribes. It is not only an offence to bribe voters; it is also an offence for voters to accept bribes. This applies, for example, where someone accepts a gift or money in return for voting for a certain person or signing a petition for an initiative or referendum.

Electoral fraud

Finally, it is important that the result of the vote or election is not falsified, i.e. that all votes are recorded and counted correctly. The following acts are prohibited:

  • adding ballot papers
  • removing ballot papers
  • altering ballot papers
  • deliberately counting votes incorrectly
  • deliberately certifying an incorrect result

Voting secrecy

It is also an offence to find out ‘by unlawful means’ who has voted for whom or for what – i.e. to breach voting secrecy.

Swiss Criminal Code, Art. 279ff.

Preventing the manipulation of votes and elections

Where irregularities in votes and elections are suspected, the authorities themselves can make a complaint to the police. However, anyone can file a complaint. Any police station will accept a complaint, whether it is made orally or in writing. It is also possible to make a complaint to the cantonal prosecution service.

Reporting someone to the police – Filing a report

In addition, in recent years a team from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has observed the federal elections.

Final report of the OSCE Election Expert Team 2015, focusing on internet voting