Tag Archives: Swiss

How to Vote in Switzerland

Voting is a pretty easy process for Swiss citizens because the government mails everyone a ballot, which acts as both a voting ID at the polling station or as the much preferred absentee ballot. Swiss either throw their completed ballot in a post box for free or if they’ve missed the deadline, they can vote in person over the weekend at their local Gemeindehaus (town hall). Some cities like Winterthur have even been offering online voting since 2008.

Compared to the US, the whole system seems quite advanced to me. No one ever has to worry about registering on time, requesting absentee ballots, or finding time to go to a polling station during work because the whole process is automated and everyone always receives their ballots at home.

However, despite all that, there is still often a very low voter turnout in the country due to the frequency of the elections and increasing voter apathy. I received my first envelope to vote some time early 2015 and wanted Kay to show me how it worked because the system is quite different than what I am used to in America and in addition to it being in German, the whole process seemed foreign and scary to me.

As a true Swiss, my first election passed with the envelope sitting on my desk, unopened. Throughout the year, we received more envelopes, and I kept asking Kay if we could go through it together some time on the weekend, but he was so busy applying to school and later preparing to leave, that a whole year passed and neither of us voted once.Now that he’s gone, several important issues came up on the ballot in February including an issue on marriage rights/equality as well as another anti-foreigner initiative launched by the SVP (Schweizerische Volkspartei or Swiss People’s Party), and I wanted to exercise my right to vote!

What do you receive in your Swiss voting envelope? Quite a lot, which is why I was so overwhelmed the first time I opened the envelope up!

  • Envelope itself, which is reused for mailing your ballot (clever!)
  • Envelope for the ballots
  • Voter ID Card, which also functions as an address card to both you and the polling place
  • Federal voting ballots (Stimmzettel)
  • Cantonal voting ballots
  • City/Town voting ballots
  • Voters guide for federal issues
  • Voters guide for cantonal issues

This is what the envelope looks like that comes in the mail. It is important to open it with the little tab across the back and DO NOT tear the envelope because you reuse this envelope to mail the whole ballot back to the town hall. Silly newbie, I didn’t read as I was opening the mail and opened my first packet with a letter opener. Below you can see that they’ve designed it so that after you open it, there is another sticky tab you can undo to seal it at the end.The most important thing to do after not-tearing your envelope is to sign your Stimmrechtsausweis, or Voter’s ID card. This is a card they give you which if you want to vote in person, you need to present this to your local Gemeindehaus (town hall) in order to vote if you’ve missed the mailing deadline.

The card not only acts as your ID for voting, but it doubles as the addressee  card. When it arrives, the card is inside the envelope facing towards the window with YOUR address. When you want to mail it, you sign it and then put it back in UPSIDE DOWN with the Gemeindehaus address showing through the window this time. It’s important to double check that you are not posting your ballot to yourself again!

Now, before you get to your ballots, what the heck is this election about? You don’t pay attention to politics either? Great. That’s why they have prepared guides for you for both federal and cantonal issues.Each brochure highlights the issues to be voted on with both quick and in depth explanations so you can do the “Let’s get it done” method or take your time and read more. Each initiative text is explained as well as the supporting and opposing views.

For the federal issues, you also receive the voting recommendation from both the Bundesrat (Swiss Federal Council) and Parlament (Parliament) to help your decision. For the cantonal issues you receive the views from Regierungsrat (governing council of the canton) and the Kantonsrat (Cantonal Council), plus any information how parliament voted that effects the issue. So if you want to be lazy, you can just glance over the general idea of the issue and then vote based on what is recommended, kind of like voting party-line in the States.

By all means, you can also search for and read for information about the candidates and issues elsewhere, online, in articles, newspapers, from friends, etc. It seems that most issues are presented in a straight-forward manner out of context, but when you put them in context, the initiative and the changes are much more complicated or different than they would first appear.

Take the marriage rights issue for example… There is a known problem in Switzerland with married couples being taxed more than non-married cohabiting couples and also receiving only 1.5X a person’s pension instead of 2 full pensions upon retirement. At first I thought, “YES, I’ve been complaining about this for years! I will support this change!”

But, then I read the actual initiative and read more about it online and not only was it was more confusing what would actually change and if it would really help me, or if it would just promote the traditional sexist practice of women staying at home while the man works, but it had some very disturbing wording defining a marriage as “between a man and a woman and nothing else”. If anything, I thought that while I would like the tax situation to  be addressed, this is not the way to do it. I certainly did not want to hinder gay marriage for anyone in any way. There is no reason for that, other than the bill being proposed by the centrist Christian Democratic Party (CVP). No surprise there.

But this issue and the one against foreign criminals take a seemingly easy-to-answer question and twist it. Do I think foreign criminals have the right to come here and commit crimes and stay indefinitely? No, but as I posted before, it’s not a black and white matter, as the SVP would have you believe.Once you figure out how you want to vote, you write in “Ja” or “Nein” on your ballot. Then you fold them and put all the ballots in the envelope with holes below.I guess that not every election you are voting on the same things. Sometimes it’s just federal or cantonal and sometimes you have local town issues. For my town, there was a new candidate being elected and I had to do some more work to figure out information about the candidates because there wasn’t a handy pamphlet explaining their backgrounds in that case.

Once the envelope with the holes is filled with the ballots, you seal it and place it in the main envelope, making sure that your Voter ID card is still in there with the correct address facing outward. On the back of the envelope, it actually has the whole instructions printed what to do and what not to forget. Wichtige Hinweise = Important instructionsThere are also further instructions on the Voter ID card how to turn it around to reuse it as the address card, where to sign it, and instructions on the ballots how to handle them.

Everything is actually very clear in reality and while I read everything myself, I did feel more comfortable having a colleague quickly explain the process to me first to make sure I wouldn’t screw it up. That’s my Type A personality shining through. 😉

The final step is just to take the sticky off the main envelope and seal the envelope. It is already postmarked, so if you follow the last step of the list and make sure you post it on time, you are in the clear!

If you wait too long, you can just take the Voter ID card and the ballots to your Gemeindehaus on the weekend and vote in person. Basta finito.

Now you know how it works!

I-Can-Eat.ch Gluten Free Galore!

I can’t recall if a colleague recommend i-can-eat.ch to me or if I found it when I was searching for gluten free hamburger buns, but it was on my list of things to try out for a long time. I really wanted some pre-made hamburger buns!

In July, I finally made a big order for around 100CHF, which got me much, much more than I would from the local Reformhaus, where bio, gluten-free items cost much more for even the same things.A bag of muesli for instance can cost almost 8CHF in the store, but were under 5CHF online. Not only that, but they had tons of brands and foods not available in stores. I ordered multiple types of cereal, muesli, my hamburger buns, and several types of Belgian gluten-free beer that I had never tried.I had high hopes for the buns, but I only ordered two packs to test them out first. I mean, not only have I not tried to make hamburger buns myself yet, but sometimes you just want the convenience of making something spur-of-the-moment, or as on-the-fly as you can with a meticulous gluten free diet.

I can’t tell you how often I have hamburger cravings and know it’s impossible to order one. The gluten free hamburgers we found in Australia were incredible and I had a strong craving again this summer!We are also pretty set on cereal mixings for a long time. Normally if we don’t feel like going to Reformhaus to buy special cereal, we just buy the only available cereal at Coop or Migros, corn flakes (blah!) and add in dried fruit. Sometimes not even Coop carries GF corn flakes though, but now we can make our mixes with puffed oats or buckwheat, buckwheat flakes, assorted puffs and so on. I was also looking forward to testing out all the beer they had. I only ordered ones I haven’t had before and not everything was in stock, but I got five kinds of Brunehaut beer, which is made similar to Daura GF beer where they make the beer and then de-glutenize it later.

It’s worth noting that these beers would not be allowed to be labeled GF in the US because malt/barley is an ingredient, but I have never reacted on one of these de-glutenized beers yet, so I partake in them from time to time. (Don’t worry, my main love is still caipirinhas!) Overall I am happy with my purchase and plan to make another one in the future. The only downside is all the packaging that ordering online comes with, but lots of these products are French or foreign and I couldn’t  get them in a store in the Zurich area anyway.

Happy Swiss National Day

It’s here, it’s here again! Happy Swiss National Day!

(Badi Tiefenbrunnen)

We are celebrating today with Kay’s family. His brother flew in from Madrid and we are grilling and enjoying some gluten free goodies.

Of course it will be a bit sad and definitely different without my MIL to celebrate, but we will remember the nice holidays we enjoyed with her. When Kay was away for work one year, I spent one of my first Swiss National days with his parents seeing the parade and festivities in Zurich. I remember being proud that I was making the step to spend time alone with my then boyfriend’s family.

I’ll be sure to take some pictures and make an update, but for now I’m enjoying a cold, gluten free beer. If there is one thing that is really on my to do list this weekend, it is taking a family photo!

Eingebürgert… Finally Swiss!

Forgot to mention this little detail, but I’m finally Swiss!!

December 2014:

After receiving my 765CHF letter in October stating that there was a positive decision, I needed to wait for all the final formalities where the Heimatort is given one last right to object. In the craziness leading up to our Australia trip, I received the official letter from the Heimatort confirming and congratulating me that I am now Swiss.

It was a little anticlimactic though, because although I was now Swiss, I didn’t know what the next steps were to get that little booklet up there. I thought there would be some sort of “How to” leaflet included. Not knowing what to do, I figured I would sort it out after our Australia trip. Anyway, my B-permit was still valid until August 2015, so no problems there… or so I thought.

When we got to passport control on the way out of Switzerland, my permit wouldn’t scan. I wondered out loud that maybe it has something to do with my naturalization. The lady asked where I was naturalized, because with my American passport and Swiss foreign permit in hand, it wasn’t really clear to her that I was talking about Swiss naturalization. I think she just assumed I am a foreigner with little to no right to be in Switzerland and was about to give me a telling-off.

Of course when I told her I am Swiss, she wanted to know where my Swiss passport was and I had to explain that I JUST became Swiss a week or so previously and wasn’t even sure it was totally finalized. Maybe the Heimatort is busy updating the town hall before I could apply for my passport?

They let me leave, but it was clear that my foreign permit was no longer valid because I was Swiss (why doesn’t it say that on their control screens??) so I was traveling without valid Swiss residence identification. Woohoo.

When we returned, I had to play the game again and they were a little more suspicious about letting me back into the country. They asked where is my letter confirming my citizenship and I told them that I didn’t think I had to bring that because my foreign permit was valid until August 2015,  and nobody explained that it would automatically terminate!

We arrived home on a Monday morning and headed straight to work. In the evening at home, I realized that the town hall had been informed about the final decision and they did send me a helpful little leaflet about how to get the passport. The kicker was that they said they don’t have anything to do with it and I could have done it all on my own in December if I had known the steps!

On Tuesday I made an appointment to go to the Travel Office. The appointment slots fill up very quickly in the evening, but I managed to get one for the next day on Wednesday and after a 15 minute stop in the morning, I was done. By Friday morning, I received my shiny new passport in the post and the following Monday, a week after arriving home, I already had the Swiss identification card as well. How is that for efficiency??

We’re a bit late, but Kay and I are throwing a party this week to celebrate my citizenship. We don’t have parties that often, but this definitely seems worth celebrating!

Missed something?

Another “Swissness” Test

May 2013:
I was feeling all chuffed when my police visit was over, because I was sure that would be one of the last things I had to do before I would receive my much-awaited 765CHF post bill confirming that I would receive my citizenship. I was wrong!

Just a couple weeks after my police visit, I received a letter from the very man from the town hall who told me I couldn’t apply for citizenship until I had lived here a whole year. In his letter, he told me that he has been informed by Canton Zürich that I am applying for citizenship, so he wanted to meet with me and to please call him for an appointment. Unlike the nice policemen, I would have to go visit him.

This was both good and bad. The good part was that his letter signaled that my citizenship must have been approved on the federal level and now they were giving the canton and town the right to hear and appeal. That last bit means that the canton and the townspeople have no authority over the decision of my citizenship, so I was a bit irked that this guy was requiring me to meet him for an extra integration test.

I checked around with some others and it seems that this is indeed a very uncommon, if not, totally unheard of practice. Whatever… lets make this process even longer, why not! Bureaucracy FTW!

Kay was sweet enough to come with me to the town hall so that I wouldn’t have to meet with the guy alone, although the man assured me that my husband really didn’t need to come and he promised it would be quick. We met at 7am one morning and our meeting lasted around thirty minutes, mostly because the guy was chatting with Kay about local schools and his army service.

I was asked the same basic questions that the Fremdenpolizei asked previously, but he also asked why I want to be Swiss. I explained that it was important to me to be Swiss before we would have a family and also because I would like to be able to vote. Awkwardly enough, our town had recently had some very local elections that not even Kay was aware about (cough apathetic voter cough cough).

It’s true… voter apathy is a problem in Switzerland, especially with how often they have elections. I told the townsman that I read about some things and talk to Kay about them, but I don’t go out of my way to learn about politics because it’s always been something that I cannot take part in here. I explained that if I would become Swiss I would like to vote, but only on things that I am well informed about.

At the end, the man explained how nice it was to meet with these mystery faces before he signs off on the integration papers. He feels much more secure recommending that my application go forward when he knows that I am really trying to integrate.

The day before my appointment, he had a woman in who only spoke English and the townsman’s English is almost non-existent. He told her she would have to come back later with a translator, but that it didn’t look optimistic for her. How can he recommend her integration in good faith when she cannot even speak some basic German in the city where she is living?

He said it happens all the time. International couples speaking English with each other and working in English, only socializing with expats. That’s not what the Swiss want becoming Swiss, or they would start to lose their culture slowly.

I was happy that I “passed” this portion of his test. He said he would write me a nice recommendation and then explained that the next part of the process would include sending the write to hear and appeal to Kay’s Heimatort. He said it is unheard of to not be accepted by the Heimatort, but the whole process means waiting several more months before getting the 765chf letter.

Well, if there is anything I have been learning, it is that the Swiss want you to learn patience. 😉

Missed something?