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What happens to your ballot paper after you have cast your vote?

You’ve sent your vote by post, put it in your commune’s letterbox or cast it straight into a ballot box; what happens next?

The commune receives all the voting envelopes

Most people vote by post. In this case, the postal service delivers the voting materials to the commune – or the commune collects them from the post office. When you cast your ballot directly into a ballot box or put it in your commune’s letterbox before the deadline, the commune receives the documents directly. Several security measures are applied. For example, one person alone is not allowed to empty the commune’s letterbox.

Large number of tellers

Depending  on the size of the commune, a large space such as a gym may be required for counting the votes. In cities, hundreds or even over a thousand tellers may be required. Depending on the commune, the tellers may be volunteers or persons who are chosen by lot and required to help count. In some communes, votes are counted in more than one place, and in others, a larger neighbouring commune takes over the count.

Counting can be a lot of work

The tellers start by opening the ballot envelopes. They check whether the polling card has been signed. (Exceptions: the Cantons of Basel-Stadt and Appenzell Ausserrhoden, where no signature is required.) Any votes without this signature are invalid. The closed envelopes containing the ballot papers are therefore only passed on if the polling card has been signed. All the envelopes containing these ballot papers are then opened. In cantons where the voters have to put their ballot papers for the National Council and the Council of States into the same envelope, the lists for the two chambers must now be separated.
• The Council of States ballot papers are relatively easy to count (most cantons have a first-past-the-post system).
• The votes for the National Council in cantons with only one seat (Uri, Obwalden, Nidwalden, Glarus, Appenzell Ausserrhoden and Appenzell Innerrhoden) are easy to count.
• In all other Cantons, vote counting for the National Council is more complicated (proportional representation). Counting unamended lists is easiest. Amended lists make things more complicated.

How the cantonal and federal authorities receive the results

Counting ballot papers in National Council elections in cantons with proportional representation

As soon as the commune has counted all the votes, it sends the result to the cantonal election office. Here all the results from the communes are added together. Then the final result becomes clear:

  • In small cantons with only one National Council seat (Uri, Obwalden, Nidwalden, Glarus, Appenzell Ausserrhoden and Appenzell Innerrhoden), the candidate with the most votes is elected.
  • For the Council of States elections, the percentage of votes required to be elected depends on the canton. In some cases, there is a second round of voting.
  • In cantons with more than one National Council seat, there is a system of proportional representation. The guiding principle is ‘first the list, then the candidates’. First, the number of seats received by each list is calculated. Then the candidates with the most votes on the  lists receive the seats in the National Council.

Finally, the cantonal election offices notify the federal authorities of the results, and the provisional election results are published.

Retaining ballot papers

The cantons or communes are required to retain the ballot papers after election day. Only when the Federal Statistical Office has validated the results and there are no complaints or criminal proceedings pending can the ballot papers be destroyed.

Last modification: november 2019