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How does the French election system work?

Paper ballots placed inside envelopes made of paper. No absentee voting or early voting. In Sunday’s presidential election, French voters will use an antiquated system that has withstood appeals for more flexibility and modernization.

Here’s how the French election works, as France’s 48.8 million voters select between President Emmanuel Macron and his far-right rival Marine Le Pen.

How are ballots cast?

Voters make their selections in a booth with the curtains drawn back, then place their ballot in an envelope, which is then placed in a transparent ballot box. To finish the process, they must show a photo identification and sign a document next to their name.

Machine voting has been permitted on a trial basis since 2008, however, the acquisition of new devices has been halted due to security concerns. Out of 35,000 municipalities in France, just about 60 still utilise them.


During the COVID-19 outbreak last year, Macron’s centrist government attempted to enact an amendment allowing early voting by machine to promote voter participation. The measure was rejected by the Senate, which was led by a conservative majority, on the grounds that it was announced with little warning and was not legally sound.

Some people were unable to vote in the first round of the presidential election on April 10 due to a nationwide attempt to streamline voter records, particularly to remove persons who had died or changed addresses. According to the state statistics bureau, around 3,100 voters who were accidentally purged from the voting rolls were reinstated in time for the second round.

Are there any other alternatives?

In 1975, mail-in voting was outlawed due to concerns about voter fraud. People who are unable to vote due to a variety of circumstances can have someone else vote for them.

To do so, a voter must fill out and bring a form to a police station ahead of time. In the last presidential election five years ago, up to 7% of people voted by proxy.

Le Pen

Voting is done in embassies and consulates by French citizens living abroad.

Local governments can provide vans or buses to transport elderly persons from nursing homes to polling stations, and prisons can set up voting stations within their institutions.

How is ballot-counting done?

By hand, volunteers count the ballots one by one. Officials then register and report the results using state-run software.

However, just the paper is legally valid. If a result is contested, the paper ballots are manually recounted.

The results of communities that use machines are recorded locally before being reported to the Interior Ministry, which regulates elections. The ministry said it has received no reports of voting machine abnormalities in the first round of voting on April 10.

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