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

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

President Emmanuel Macron is the frontrunner, although he faces a tough challenge from far-right leader Marine Le Pen and voter uncertainty: an unprecedented proportion of people told pollsters these last days that they did not know who they would vote for or if they would vote at all.

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

Voters make their choice in a voting booth, curtains closed, then deposit their ballot in an envelope which 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.

The volunteers count the ballots 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 complete a form in advance and bring it to a police station. A person can only be a representative of a single elector residing in France – and possibly of an additional person residing abroad.

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


Postal voting was banned in 1975 amid fears of potential fraud.

Automatic voting was allowed on a trial basis from 2002, but the purchase of new machines has been frozen since 2008 due to security concerns. Only a few dozen municipalities still use them.

Last year, Macron’s centrist government tried to push through an amendment to allow early machine voting to encourage voter turnout amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Senate, led by a conservative majority, rejected the measure, arguing that it had been announced with too little notice and was not legally sound enough.

Most COVID-19 related restrictions have been lifted in the country. Although the number of cases is significantly lower than at the start of the year, infections have been increasing again 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 the other health instructions.

Voters can wash their hands at polling stations, which will also have hand sanitizer. The equipment will be frequently cleaned. Each polling station will let in fresh air for at least 10 minutes every hour.

The French presidential election is organized in two rounds. Twelve candidates qualified for Sunday’s vote.

In theory, someone could win by collecting more than 50% of the votes in the first round, but this has never happened in France.

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

Follow the AP’s coverage of the French elections at

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