Voting in France: paper ballots, in person, counted by hand

French voters in Sunday’s presidential election will use the same system that has been used for generations: paper ballots that are cast in person and counted by hand. Despite periodic calls for more flexibility or modernization, France does not do postal voting, early voting or mass voting with voting machines like the United States.

President Emmanuel Macron is leading the way, though he faces a tough challenge from far-right leader Marine Le Pen and voter insecurity: An unprecedented number of people told pollsters in recent days that they weren’t sure who they would vote for or whether they were going to vote at all. would not vote.


Voters must be at least 18 years old. About 48.7 million French people are on the electoral rolls of where they live.

Voters make their choice in a booth, with the curtains drawn, then put their ballot paper in an envelope that is then placed in a transparent ballot box. They must show photo ID and sign a document, next to their name, to complete the process.

Volunteers count the votes one by one. Officials will then use state-run software to record and report the results.

But legally, only the paper counts. If a result is disputed, the paper ballots are recounted manually.


People who cannot go to the polls for various reasons can authorize someone else to vote for them.

To do this, a voter must fill out a form in advance and bring it to a police station. A person can be the proxy for no more than one voter living in France — and possibly one additional person living abroad.

Up to 7% of people voted by proxy in the last presidential election five years ago.


Voting by mail was banned in 1975 for fear of possible fraud.

Machine voting was allowed as an experiment from 2002, but purchase of new machines has been frozen since 2008 for security reasons. Only a few dozen cities still use them.

Last year, Macron’s centrist government tried to pass an amendment to enable early machine voting to encourage election participation during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Senate, led by a conservative majority, rejected the measure, arguing that it was under-announced and not sound enough legally.


Most of the COVID-19 restrictions in the country have been lifted. Although the number of cases is significantly lower than earlier this year, infections have been on the rise for several weeks, reaching more than 130,000 new confirmed cases every 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, where hand sanitizer will also be available. Equipment is cleaned regularly. Each polling station lets in at least 10 minutes of fresh air every hour.


The French presidential elections are organized in two rounds. Twelve candidates met the requirements for Sunday’s vote.

In theory, someone could win outright by getting more than 50% of the vote in the first round, but that has never happened in France.

In practice, the top two contenders qualify for a second round, with the winner being chosen on April 24.

Follow the AP’s coverage of the French election at

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