Geneva to vote on expanding political rights for expats

Geneva to vote on expanding political rights for expats

On June 9, 2024, alongside the four federal referendums, Swiss citizens in Canton Geneva will vote on whether internationals should be given more voting rights. Here’s what you need to know about the proposal, views for and against and what the impact will be on expats if it is passed.

Can expats vote in Swiss elections and referendums?

Currently, those who hold residence permits in Switzerland are not able to vote on the federal level in either elections or referendums. However, five Swiss cantons, namely Geneva, Vaud, Fribourg, Neuchâtel and Jura - give non-Swiss people some political rights on the local level, but only Neuchâtel and Jura allow expats to vote on the cantonal level. 

Under the “One life here, one voice here… Let’s strengthen our democracy!” initiative, non-Swiss people in Geneva who have been residents of the canton for more than eight years would be given the opportunity to vote in elections and referendums at both the local and cantonal level. In a first for Switzerland, the proposal would also give internationals the ability to stand for political office for both the Grand Council and the Council of State of Geneva. 

40 percent of Genevan population denied the franchise, supporters argue

Supporters of the proposal say that of all the cantons of Switzerland, Geneva has the strongest reason to allow expats to vote. According to a Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) report from February 2024, 49,2 percent of Geneva residents are not Swiss by birth, with the initiative committee in favour of the referendum estimating that nearly 40 percent of the adult population does not have the right to vote.

Speaking to the Tribune de Genève (TdG), Action Trade Union representative for Geneva Davide de Filippo argued that the plan would help integration and make the cantonal government more responsive to local needs. “Geneva has many workers of foreign origin, who cannot express themselves on subjects that directly concern them. They were, for example, unable to vote on the minimum wage or store opening hours.” 

“Giving them the right to vote is common sense!” added Liberty and Social Justice Party representative Laurent Seydoux. The committee concluded that it is unfair that many people have lived the majority and in some cases their entire lives in Canton Geneva without ever being given a say on how their taxes are used or how the region as a whole is run.

Opponents say the Geneva expat voting rights proposal goes too far

While many have voiced their support for the change, some still have argued that the proposal is too radical. Speaking to the TdG, FDP Grand Councillor Julian Alder argued that the plan “goes too far”: “The initiative only provides for a period of residence of eight years in Switzerland, without requiring a C-permit. In addition, we [will have to] accept the fact that it will no longer be necessary to master the French language or to respect the values of our Constitution to obtain political rights.”

Alder added that the new right to stand in elections could, in theory, lead to a non-Swiss national being elected to the Grand Council and then on to the federal government. “A foreigner could therefore be elected in Bern and decide on questions of national security and foreign policy. This is unacceptable.”

“Nothing prevents [eligible] foreigners from becoming naturalised, as evidenced by the large number of elected officials of foreign origin,” Alder concluded. Writing in the TdG, a group of three grand councillors from the FDP and Centre Party agreed: “The only path for foreigners to obtain full political rights is through naturalisation…it’s not too much to ask people to become Swiss in order to be elected.” 

Thumb image credit: olrat /

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Editor for Switzerland at IamExpat Media. Jan studied History at the University of York and Broadcast Journalism at the University of Sheffield. Though born in York, Jan has lived most...

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