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How France’s old-school voting system works

PARIS (AP) – Paper ballots tucked in paper envelopes. No absentee voting, and no early voting either. French voters in yesterday’s presidential election are using and old-school system that has defied calls for more flexibility or modernisation.

As France’s 48.8 million voters are invited to choose between President Emmanuel Macron and his far-right challenger Marine Le Pen, here is a look at how the French election works:


Voters make their choices in a booth, with the curtains closed, then place their ballot in an envelope that is then put into a transparent ballot box.

They must show photo identification and sign a document, next to their name, to complete the process.

Machine-voting has been allowed on an experimental basis, but the purchase of new machines has been frozen since 2008 due to security concerns.

Only about 60 towns still use them, out of 35,000 municipalities in France. Last year, Macron’s centrist government tried to pass an amendment to allow early voting by machine to encourage electoral participation amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

A man casts his vote in the second round of the French presidential election in Marseille, southern France on April 24. PHOTO: AP

The Senate, led by a conservative majority, rejected the measure, arguing it was announced with too little notice and wasn’t solid enough legally. A nationwide effort to streamline voter rolls, notably to remove people who had died or changed addresses, led to some people being unable to vote in the first round presidential election on April 10.

The state statistics agency reported that about 3,100 voters who were removed by error were restored to voting lists in time for the second round.


Mail-in voting was banned in 1975 amid fears of potential fraud.

People who can’t go to the polls for various reasons can authorise someone else to vote for them.

To do so, a voter must fill out a form ahead of time and bring it to a police station. Up to seven per cent of people voted by proxy in the last presidential election five years ago.

French people living abroad vote in embassies or consulates.

Local authorities can organise vans or buses to pick up older people from nursing homes to bring them to voting stations, and prisons set up voting stations inside their facilities.


Volunteers count the ballots one by one, by hand. Officials then use state-run software to register and report results.

But legally only the paper counts. If a result is challenged, the paper ballots are recounted manually. For towns using machines, the results are registered locally and then reported to the Interior Ministry, which oversees elections. The ministry said it received no reports of irregularities involving voting machines in the first-round vote on April 10.


Most pandemic restrictions have been lifted in the country. The number of cases is significantly lower than earlier this year, but there are still more than 80,000 new confirmed infections each day. People who test positive for the virus can go to the polls. They are strongly advised to wear a mask and follow other health guidelines.

Voters can wash their hands at polling stations, which also have hand sanitisers available.

Equipment is to be frequently cleaned. Each voting station lets fresh air in for at least 10 minutes every hour.