For people like me who are not French citizens, voting here is a rare event, confined to the municipal elections (every six years) and the European elections (every five). The last time I voted was in March 2014, for the conseil municipal. I am not permitted to vote in the UK, having been out of the country for more than 15 years. So I was determined to exercise my vote today in the European elections, and we duly presented ourselves at our village Mairie.
I’m not going to talk about the politics involved in these elections. Plenty of virtual and real ink has been spilled on that topic and I can’t add anything helpful. Instead, I’ll take you through what happens when you vote in France.
Registering to vote
First off, you register at your local Mairie by the last working day in December of the year preceding the election. We registered more than 20 years ago, so there’s no need to do it again, unless you move to a different commune. However, now that I am an Irish citizen as well as British, and if Brexit does happen, I will no doubt have to re-register under my second nationality in order to vote in the European elections.
Next, shortly before the elections, you receive a voting card through the post. Or at least you should. One year, our Mairie forgot to send them out to non-French inhabitants. Oops. And I understand that this year certain communes think the UK has already left the EU. So some confusion reigns. Happily, we received ours. They look like this. Your name, address and voting number are on the flip side.
You are supposed to take it along to vote. You also have to show an identity card if your commune has more than 1,000 inhabitants (why that threshold? No idea).
A few days before the vote, you receive a sheaf of voting papers and manifestos through the post. France has strict rules about how much electoral publicity and air time political parties are allowed, and how much they are permitted to spend. I won’t go into the details of that.
For the European elections, every party sent one printed sheet setting out what they stand for, and another printed sheet listing their candidates. The latter is a voting paper. More about that below. All this represents a lot of paper nationwide. P.S. The image below shows a random selection.
Casting your vote
Elections are always held on a Sunday in France. I think this is sensible, since people are more at leisure than on a working day, and it may increase the turnout. As in the UK, various public buildings, like schools, can act as polling stations. Ours is the Mairie. In fact, it was more like a social event today, as we greeted friends and acquaintances and shook hands with Monsieur le Maire.
You turn up, show your card and pièce d’identité and get ticked off the list, and then you vote in one of the curtained booths. For the European elections, you choose the party you want to vote for and put the voting paper listing their candidates into an envelope. You mustn’t write on the paper or cross out any names or it counts as a spoilt ballot. And you can put only one paper into the envelope. Plenty of voting papers are provided, so you don’t have to take with you the ones you received at home.
It’s standard practice to pick up several different voting papers to disguise your voting intentions. Waste paper bins are provided in the booths for the unwanted sheets. I hope it all gets recycled afterwards.
The SF, who has a penchant for ignoring instructions, went into the booth and out the same way. You are supposed to go in one side and exit the opposite side…
The envelope is then posted into a sealed Perspex box and the official says, “A voté” (has voted). A manual counter indicates the number of votes cast. Once in the urne (ballot box), the envelope can’t be retrieved.
That’s it. Your civic duty done. A la prochaine.
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