Smaller than in America, fairer than in China: elections are being held in Bern on Sunday. Voters must choose a new city parliament and government, but it’s not as simple as putting an X beside a name. Elections in Switzerland are never that easy because there are so many parties and the world’s most complicated system of proportional representation. And three different things are being elected at the same time:
First, the Stadtrat, or city parliament, which has 80 members. The current one was elected four years ago and this time around there are 464 candidates across 18 party lists. Voters get one vote per seat, which means 80 votes, but they don’t have to vote 80 times! Each party produces a list of candidates and voters can simply choose the whole list, using a pre-printed voting form. But that seems rather dull when the system allows you to be far more creative:
Strike. If you don’t like a candidate, then cross his (or her) name off the list. Simple as that, he’s lost your vote. You can strike as many names as you want, as long as at least one remains.
Accumulate. Like one candidate more than the others? Then vote for him twice by writing his name in again! Most of the party lists have the names already written in twice. But three times is not allowed.
Split. You want to vote for the Greens but your best friend is standing for the BDP. No problem. Just cross off one Green and add your friend’s name instead. Even better, cross off two Greens and write his name in twice.
If that seems too boring, you can also build your own list using a blank voting form and writing in the names: it’s a pick-and-mix from any candidates on a party list – and still accumulate by writing in names twice.
Next is the Gemeinderat, or city government, which has five seats up for grabs. It’s the same list procedure, with the same possibilities of striking, accumulating and splitting your votes, but at least here there are only 14 candidates for the five posts. To make things easier, the 14 are divided into three lists representing the three political groupings: Red-Green, Middle and Right. All rather simple compared to the Stadtrat.
Lastly, the post of Stadtpräsident, or city president. That’s the simplest vote of all as it needs only an absolute majority to win. No lists, no splitting or striking. Just three candidates and one vote. The catch is that the winner has to be a member of the Gemeinderat, so in effect has to win two elections at once. If there is no winner on Sunday, a second vote takes place in January.
It’s no surprise that when Gregor’s voting material arrived, it was a hefty package. Election propaganda from every party or grouping or candidate, giant pre-printed voting lists, blank voting forms for making your own list, and a short guide on how to vote. So it’s also no surprise that turnout is usually below 50%. For many people it’s just too complicated.
With so many possibilities, you could be in that voting booth for hours, crossing out names, writing legibly, asking for another form because you messed yours up. That’s why many people vote in advance by post, although there’s sometimes a queue at the main polling station in the waiting room of Bern Bahnhof. Not all Swiss are so organised.