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Counting ballot papers in National Council elections in cantons with more than one seat: ZH, BE, LU, SZ, ZG, FR, SO, BS, BL, SH, SG, GR, AG, TG, TI, VD, VS, NE, GE, JU.

The polling stations have closed, and counting of the ballots can begin. How are votes allocated in National Council elections in cantons with proportional representation?

In cantons with more than one seat in the National Council, seats are first allocated to lists and then to candidates.

How to vote in cantons with proportional representation
  • How are votes and seats allocated to the different lists?


    1. Unmodified lists
    All of the votes on an unmodified pre-printed ballot paper go to the selected list (in our example: six votes for List X).

    2. List with names crossed out
    Even though one or more candidate names are crossed out, all the votes go to the pre-printed list. It is important that not all names are crossed out.

    3. List with names transferred from other lists (split vote)
    List X loses a vote if a candidate name is crossed out and replaced by a name from another list. In our example, List X only gets five votes, while List Z gets one.

    4. Blank ballot paper without a list designation
    - On a blank ballot paper without a list designation, votes are allocated to the list(s) whose candidates’ names are written by hand on the ballot paper (one vote per name).
    - Lines left blank do not count.

    5. Blank ballot paper with a list designation
    On a blank ballot paper with a list designation, lines left blank count as a vote for that list.

    6. How many seats does each list receive?
    Once the votes are counted, the seats in the National Council are shared out among the lists according to the number of votes each list has received. There are several phases to this process. Each group of combined lists is initially treated as a single list.
    See Articles 40 to 42 of the Political Rights Act.

  • How are votes and seats allocated to the candidates?

    The candidates on a list are also competing against each other. Only those candidates who receive enough votes can take up a seat in the National Council.

    1. Unmodified lists
    On an unmodified pre-printed list, all the candidates receive one vote. Candidates whose name is printed twice receive two votes.

    2. Crossed-out names
    Candidates on a pre-printed list whose name is crossed out do not receive any votes.

    3. Accumulated names
    Candidates whose name appears on a pre-printed list and is written again by hand (accumulated) receive two votes.


    4. Names transferred to another list (split vote)
    - Candidates also receive a vote if their name is written by hand on a list other than their own (split vote).
    - Careful: the number of names on the ballot paper may not exceed the number of lines.

    5. Blank ballot papers completed by hand
    Votes are allocated on the same basis in the case of ballot papers which are filled out by hand.

    6. and 7. Who has received most votes on List X, and therefore gets a seat in the National Council?
    The candidates on a list who receive the most votes are elected. For example, if a list receives three seats, then the three candidates with the most votes on this list are elected.

Allocation of seats to lists

Each canton has a fixed number of National Council seats. The more inhabitants a canton has, the more seats it has in the National Council.

How many seats does each canton have in Parliament?

The seats in the National Council are first allocated to the candidate lists in proportion to the total number of votes each list has received.

List combinations and sub-list combinations of different parties or candidate groups are first treated as a single list: the votes are added together to maximise the chances of gaining an additional seat.

Distribution of seats in the National Council from 1971 to 2015
List combinations and sub-combinations

Allocation to candidates of seats obtained by a list

Only once the number of seats obtained by each list has been established can the winners of the election be declared, i.e. the candidates on the list who obtained the most votes. For example, if a list is allocated three seats, the three candidates who obtained the most votes are elected.

If a person is elected and chooses not to take up their seat, or if they step down during their term of office, the candidate on the same list who was not elected but received the next greatest number of votes takes their place.

What happens when there is a draw?

When two or more candidates on a list get the same number of votes, lots are drawn. This happened in the canton of Ticino in the 2011 National Council election.

Who wins if two or more candidates get the same number of votes?

Further information

For more detailed information on how votes are counted and the formulas for calculating the distribution of seats, please see the Federal Chancellery’s guidelines for groups of candidates (pages 21 and 22) (in DE, FR and IT).