Various tweets and videos circulated following the French presidential elections on Sunday, May 7, 2017 saying that the result was hacked. Not true.

France’s example is a good one for other countries to follow. So is the British voting procedure.

This is because both involve paper. In France, one puts a slip of paper with the candidate’s name on it into an envelope. In the UK, we mark an X next to a candidate’s name. What could be simpler?

Traditional voting

There are very few voting machines in France. Most of the French vote the old fashioned way.

Furthermore, they are prohibited from sending in an absentee ballot.

The French must vote in person, even when they live overseas (e.g. Canada). If they are unable to show up at the polling station, they can appoint someone to vote for them, provided that person lives in the same commune or, when abroad, vicinity (e.g. Montreal). That said, arranging proxy voting requires appearing before a designated government official beforehand.

A few days before the election is held, voters receive an envelope by post which has flyers from the various candidates along with a slip of paper with the candidate’s name printed on it.

Last weekend, a video showed someone opening their envelope with information about Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. However, although there were two voting slips, both were for Macron:

A photo showed damaged Le Pen slips damaged in the town of Allier. These could not be used for voting. Allier, incidentally, voted overwhelmingly for Macron:

Although those tweets elicited reaction, a number of French voters responded by saying that the polling station has stacks of slips of paper — bulletins — for each candidate.

Even if someone comes in and steals a stack of bulletins for a particular candidate, polling station officials can ring up and get more within a short space of time. This happened in Ruffey-les-Echirey in Burgundy. France3 reported (I’ve edited the Google translation slightly):

The two stacks of ballot papers, one for Emmanuel Macron and the other for Marine Le Pen, were no longer equal, as required by the electoral code: the electors of the commune were only offered 140 Le Pen ballots instead of 973 – the number of registrants in Ruffey …

Several hundred “Marine Le Pen” bulletins were deliberately stolen during the night, thus compromising the fairness of the two candidates in the polling station. But it took more than that to disturb the elected Ruffey: the mayor, Nadine Mutin, and her 1st deputy contacted the prefecture of Côte-d’Or to resolve the discrepancy. The prefecture provided them with official bulletins thirty minutes later. With enough Le Pen ballots, the polling station was able to open at 8 a.m., and voting unfolded smoothly.

Media blackout

Campaigns end the Friday before the election. No election news is allowed from midnight on the Saturday preceding the election.

How voting works

One must be a registered voter in order to cast a ballot. The minimum voting age is 18.

On election day, French voters go to their appointed polling station.

Before voting, an official checks their voter registration and identity cards. Showing a voter registration card is supposed to be mandatory in communes with more than 5,000 people. However, Marianne reported that if voters lost or misplaced it, showing an ID card would be sufficient, even in larger communes.

https://i1.wp.com/ekladata.com/oKF7QilzlYouNO1Fsw1f1n-siXk.jpgVoters then go to a table with stacks of pre-printed bulletins and envelopes. There is one stack for each candidate. I have read that voters must take one slip for each candidate, but I have also read anecdotally that some take only two. Obviously, the more one takes, the less chance that anyone will know one’s voting intention.

Voters also take an envelope before proceeding to private voting booths.

Once in the privacy of the voting booth, voters put the piece of paper with their candidate’s name on it into the envelope. They then close the envelope. They throw unused slips of paper into the bin provided.

They proceed to the table with a clear perspex box which contains the ballots. One official mans the box and two others are on hand to check voter registration and ID cards once more. Once the identity check has been made, voters give their closed envelope to the official in charge of the box. The official opens the little slot on top of the box. The voter places the envelope in the box, then the official closes it.

The official running the box then announces, ‘A voté‘, meaning ‘(has) voted’. Sometimes in smaller places, the official also announces the voter’s full name: ‘Jeanne Duclos a voté‘. I’ve personally seen this done.

The voter signs the voter’s list and an official stamps his voter registration card in the appropriate box.

This ensures that no one can vote twice.

Voting blanc or nul

Protest voting is popular in France.

One can vote blanc — blank — or nul — no vote.

Since 2014, the government has allowed for a tabulation of both types of vote, although neither is included in the entire percentage of votes. In other words, even if the majority of voters cast such a ballot, it would still make no difference to the candidates’ percentages. Someone would emerge as the winner.

Marianne explains that there are only two ways to vote blanc: either put an empty envelope into the box or put a blank piece of paper into the envelope.

Similarly, there are only two ways to vote nul: write anyone else’s name on a piece of paper or put a torn candidate slip into the envelope.

Counting the votes

Polls close at 6 p.m. in smaller communes and at 8 p.m. in towns and cities. Local laws determine closing hours. On Sunday, polls closed at 7 across the country.

Tabulating the votes is remarkably efficient, even though not all votes are counted by the time the media announce the result.

I’ve watched live election coverage a few times over the past decade. By the time I tune in — 11:00 in the UK — the winning candidate has already given his victory speech and is off to celebrate.

The French know the result before midnight. There is no need to pull an all-nighter as there is in the UK and, sometimes, the US.

Fraud nearly impossible

The French voting system, although it is old-fashioned, is remarkably practical, simple and effective.

It mitigates against fraud and there is almost no chance of hacking, even in the few places with machines. Those in one middle class Parisian suburb did not even show the candidates’ names, although Marianne reported that all were fixed on Sunday morning after the polling stations opened:

Marianne stated that, beginning in the first round of voting in 2007, voting machines were allowed in communes with more than 3,500 inhabitants. However, they have been notoriously problematic ever since. After the first round in 2007, the minister of the interior declared a moratorium on new installations, although those communes with machines already installed were allowed to keep them.

Conclusion

It would be nice if the US could adopt the French paper model. However, the US system combines legislative and local elections with the presidential, making this impractical. The US also votes for a wider set of local representatives than France or the UK.

In Europe, we spread our elections out. For example, the UK had local elections on Thursday, May 4. We will be voting again on June 8 for our MPs in a snap election which we hope will return Theresa May to No. 10 so she has an official mandate — and a greater majority of Conservative MPs — to properly implement Brexit.

The French will return to the polls in another two-round election process for their legislators on June 11 and June 18.

Further reading:

Elections in France (Wikipedia)

French Election Vocabulary Practice (French Today)

French legislative election, 2017 (Wikipedia)

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