15 Things You Probably Don’t Know about French Elections

The results are in and it’s going to be Marine Le Pen against Emmanuel Macron in the second round of the French Presidential Election. But never mind this election! How much do you know about French elections generally? Here are 15 items that I bet most of you don’t know.

French elections, voting "papers"

  1. In France we always vote on a Sunday (easy one, you probably knew that).
  2. We only vote for one thing at a time. Vote for President today, go back to vote for Parliament a few weeks later.
  3. The new French President will take office no later than on May 15th, 2017, but our Constitution does not mandate a day.
  4. French Presidents are not sworn in at all. There are a lot of events surrounding the “investiture” of the new President, including firing canons on the Place des Invalides, but things happen a little differently and with a lot of panache each time. (I found out today, so don’t lie, you didn’t know that!)
  5. French people will vote again for the Parliament (our House of Representatives) in two rounds to be held on June 11th, 2017 and June 18th, 2017. We always hold a vote for Parliament one month after the Presidential election. That’s mandated by law.
  6. French people register to vote in the city where they live by going to city hall aka La Mairie. Alternatively, they could register to vote on-line using a government portal. There are no voter registration drives in France! (And yet most people manage to register to vote. Oh, that was a snarky comment, should I cut it out?)
  7. Once a French person is registered to vote, renewal is automatic, unless they move to a different city and wish to vote somewhere else. But if you don’t mind going back to vote in your old precinct, nobody cares.
  8. French voters are NOT asked to indicate a party preference when registering to vote. We think our party preference (if any) is nobody’s business.
  9. French campaigns are much shorter than in America. The campaign for President starts around January and the vote is held in April/May. (French people think 4 months is much too long and complain about it. If they only knew!)
  10. When you go to vote in France, you pick up two or more pieces of paper on which the names of the candidates are printed, you go to the “isoloir” (voting booth) and put the paper with the name you want inside of an envelope. These envelopes are opened and counted by humans, under supervision from other humans. People who put more than one paper in the envelope or write anything on the paper automatically nullify their vote.
  11. Voting boxes are transparent and all the same all over the country. These same transparent boxes are used when holding every election starting with 1st grade class president, so even children are familiar with how this works.(We hate surprises).
  12. Since the system is simple, we always know the result of the election at 8PM on Election Day. No press organization is allowed to announce results before 8 PM on Election Day. No piecemeal announcement of results or polls throughout the day.
  13. French territories in different time zones vote on a different day so they are not influenced by main-land results.
  14. There is a mandatory “electoral silence” between midnight the Friday before the election and Sunday 8 PM on Election Day.  That means that journalists and candidates are asked not to release any new polling results or partial counts and candidates may not engage in campaigning during that time.
  15. Despite having to go to the polls so many times, participation in elections is generally pretty good. This week for instance, 77% of eligible voters participated in the first round of the Presidential Election (58% only for the last General Election in the US this last time around).

So, there you have it! 15 things you probably didn’t know about French elections. OK, you probably knew some of them, right?

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About Author

Annie is the producer of the Join Us in France Travel Podcast which you can find on iTunes or via your favorite podcasting App. Join her on Facebook: search for the Join Us in France Closed Group and ask to join one of the most active communities of Francophiles on Facebook.