Appenzell Innerrhoden

by Lorenzo Piccoli

Democracy at its most direct in Appenzell, says the international service of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation. In this folkloresque Swiss canton with a rather peculiar name citizens use to gather all together once a year. It happens on the last Sunday of April and this is the moment when they vote open air on the most important local issues, as well as on the election of local judges and representatives. Yes, you understand me: they literally vote open air by raising their hands. No ballots, no anonymity.

It’s not all. Quite astonishingly, in fact, on the occasion the men wear swords. In fact, by tradition the sword signified the wearer’s right to vote. It follows logically that women have long been denied the right to vote. In fact, when the issue was humbly raised back in 1959, the sworded men of the canton voted (rigorously open air) 2050 to 105 against the right of women to vote. The issue was raised again in 1990 and this time it went all thw way in front of the Swiss Constitutional Court. In the case of Theresa Rohner et consorts contre Appenzell Rhodes-Intérieures the Swiss federal court declared unconstitutional the exclusive male suffrage and since then women have been allowed to vote too.

Quite astonishingly, thus, Appenzell Innerrhoden, or the place where democraticy is at its most direct, is also the last place in Western Europe where women have been allowed to vote.