This Sunday the Swiss will vote on whether to restrict access to the guns they have traditionally kept at home, between stints of compulsory military service and afterwards—a custom blamed for roughly 300 deaths a year. But in an unusual twist, non-Swiss residents will also be giving the ruling Federal Council their opinion on the question. Though would-be citizens must usually endure a twelve-year wait to become Swiss, since last November these foreigners have been offered the chance to be virtual voters in all federal referendums. This imaginative online experiment, known as Baloti, has been designed by university researchers, and paid for by the integration fund of the Department of Justice and Police.
The Swiss are proud of their ‘bottom-up’ participatory democracy. Many consider it the supreme national treasure. Micheline Calmy-Rey—whose one-year term as Councilpresident has just begun—thinks Switzerland’s unique democratic system, in which referendums and elections take place roughly four times a year, “gives all political decisions a rock-solid legitimation.” She credits this system with Switzerland’s routinely high position in international rankings for competitiveness, quality of life, innovation and research. Wolf Linder, a Swiss political scientist, considers direct democracy the single most important bond holding together what he calls an ‘artificial’ nation, with no common language or culture to unite its inhabitants.