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I have lived in this country for 17 years and yesterday I got to vote for the first time on five initiatives that effect my life. I was on a high all day.

vote-envelopeVoting in Switzerland is a relatively unique experience. Keeping my explanation simple, this country has been working with direct democracy for 125 years. The population can initiate referendums and initiatives by collecting a certain number of signatures. For federal initiatives and referendums, the people vote within their canton. Whatever the majority decides, is the canton’s vote. Whole cantons have two votes while half cantons place one vote. That means Geneva’s 285,000 Swiss have the same power as Zug’s approximate 115,000 Swiss.

After each federal vote I am fascinated to see, in essence, the values of each canton. Geneva was the only canton to vote Yes to the initiative for a Green Economy while only the five Latin based cantons voted Yes to increase the AVS (pension) pay-outs.


AVS Plus initiative vote results.

The French and Italian speaking cantons often vote similarly while the German speakers vote the other side of the spectrum. The most extreme example is women’s suffrage in Switzerland. The first federal vote in 1959 resulted in only Vaud, Neuchâtel and Geneva voting Yes to allow women to vote. Within the next two years these three cantons went on to give women voting rights at the cantonal level but federally they wouldn’t receive The Vote until 1971. However, there were still German speaking cantons that didn’t allow women to vote at a cantonal level! Finally in 1990, the last canton (Appenzell Innerrhoden) was forced by the Swiss courts to allow women to vote within the canton.

Today I read that only 45.7% of Genevans voted. I can’t help but be disappointed in my fellow citizens. What if their voting rights were taken away tomorrow? Does one realize the importance of voting only when you don’t have that right? My vote didn’t really change the big picture but it did matter and it will continue to matter because I stood up and was counted.

We are a group of international women living in Geneva, Switzerland.  If you would like to join the AIWC, please visit our website at http://www.aiwcgeneva.org/