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Foreign residents in Geneva could get voting rights

The French-speaking canton is home to Switzerland’s largest foreign population. An initiative calling for these residents to be able to vote has been accepted by the parliament.

Foreign residents in Geneva could get voting rights
A placard in French reading "We vote on Sunday". Maybe Geneva's foreigners will be able to participate in this democratic process. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

Geneva’s voters will go to the polls to decide whether foreign residents can vote on the cantonal level. The canton has the highest proportion of foreigners in the country — about 40 percent.

The Council of State has accepted the initiative spearheaded by trade unions and various associations to grant the right to vote and stand as a candidate for foreigners who have resided in Geneva for at least eight years.

The alliance has collected 8,162 valid signatures, exceeding the 8,157 required by the Geneva Constitution for a cantonal vote to be held.

The date of the vote has not yet been set.

However, unlike some other cantons which allow only C-permit holders to vote, Geneva’s initiative calls for any foreigner — whether a permanent resident or asylum seeker — to have this right, as long as the eight-year residency requirement is met.

Geneva already grants foreigners voting rights at communal level, but they can’t run for office. 

Thomas Vanek, who represents the left alliance in the Geneva parliament said such an all-inclusive approach is important because “most of the debates are done at the cantonal level. And when you have 40 percent of the people residing in the canton who are excluded from political debate, that’s a problem”.

Where in Switzerland do foreigners have the right to vote?

On the federal level, only Swiss citizens (whether born in Switzerland or naturalised) can vote.

However, some cantons and communes give their resident foreigners the right to vote on local issues and to elect local politicians. 

The Swiss-French cantons and municipalities seem to be ahead of their German-speaking counterparts in regards to voting rights.

As this article in The Local explains: “The cantons of Fribourg, Vaud, Neuchâtel and Jura allow non-citizens to vote, elect officials, and stand for election at communal level. Conditions vary from one canton to another, but in most cases a certain length of stay and/or a residence permit are required”.

Basel, Graubünden, and Appenzell Ausserrhoden have authorised their communes to introduce the right to vote, the right to elect and the right to be elected. 

But few of the communes have actually introduced these measures.

In Graubünden, only 10 of the canton’s 208 municipalities are allowing foreigners to vote: Bever, Bonaduz, Calfreise, Cazis, Conters im Prättigau, Fideris, Lüen, Masein, Portein, and Schnaus.

Only three of Appenzell Ausserrhoden’s 20 municipalities— Wald, Speicher, and Trogen — granted voting rights to non-citizens.

READ MORE: Where in Switzerland can foreigners vote?

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