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The Coucou Guide to the French Presidential Election

April 6, 2022

If you’re a fan of Le Monde, you may know that this year the newspaper created its first English-language column to cover the French election. You can read it here! You might also be interested in reading Lauren Collins’ article “Translating the French Election” about the new Le Monde column. 

Since the first round of l’élection présidentielle will take place this coming Sunday, April 10th, we’ve put together an article that breaks down everything you might want to know about how voting and elections work in France! 

By Sophia Millman

 

Who can run for president in France? 


As we pointed out in our article about famous French women politicians, all of France’s presidents have been white men. All of them have been pretty old, too, although Macron is only 44. What’s interesting to note is that in the US you have to be at least 35 to run for president, but in France you only have to be 18! This year, a 22-year-old announced his candidacy, but ultimately dropped out of the race. 

Besides being over 18, to run for president in France you have to present the signatures of 500 elected officials–from at least 30 French departments or overseas territories–to France’s Constitutional Council. (Check out this France24 article to learn more about why 500 are required.) Like in the US, presidents can only serve two terms, but each term is 5 years long – called “un quinquennat”. 

  • Practice your French: Watch this short video called “Comment fait-on pour être candidat aux élections présidentielles ?” (How do you become a presidential candidate?) 
  • Crazy US vs. France fact: French campaign financing is strictly regulated. In 2022, a first-round presidential candidate could spend no more than about 16 million euros on his or her campaign. Meanwhile, in the US, Biden raised over a billion dollars! 

 

Who can vote in France? How do you vote?


All French adults who are at least 18 and registered to vote can go to the polls. This may sound a little old-fashioned to Americans, but, in France every registered voter receives an envelope in the mail containing as many bulletins de vote (ballots) as there are candidates. Voters can read about the candidates (you receive detailed pamphlets about each one before the election) and then choose one ballot to cast. 

Starting at 8 am on an election day, voters head to their assigned polling locations. After your identity is verified, you’re given an official envelope and you go into a booth. You place your ballot in the envelope and then you put it in a transparent urne (ballot box). A polling official then checks that you have only put one envelope in it. The official says, “A voté !” (“Voted!”) and you sign a sheet. Finally, your carte électorale (see photo above) is stamped with the day’s date. Polls generally close at 6 or 7 pm, except in large cities, where they close at 8 pm.

  • You may have heard of le vote blanc and le vote nul. Un ballot blanc is a ballot that’s left blank as a deliberate protest. Un vote nul means that the ballot has a problem. For instance, someone could put a piece of paper in their ballot envelope that says “Homer Simpson” on it, which would make it nul (void).
  • Practice your French: Watch this Le Monde video about “le ballot blanchere. (Don’t forget to turn on the French subtitles!) The video discusses the rise in the number of these ballots in the last few elections. You can also read a list of the funniest votes nul here

 

What’s up with the two-round system?


French voters always go to the polls on two Sundays, two weeks apart. (April 10th and 24th this year.) A lot of our students find this strange and we can see why! The two round-system is pretty rare in the West; Portugal is the only other Western European country that uses it. It’s popular, however, in eastern Europe as well as Central Asia, South America and Africa. 

If a president wins more than 50 percent of the vote in the first tour (round), they’re elected, but that’s never happened. Le second tour is the run-off election in which voters can only vote for one of the two candidates who received the most votes. This BBC article about the 2022 election includes a helpful image of the French electoral process. 

 

How many people run for president in France? What are the different parties?


This year, there are 12 candidates in the first round of the French election: eight men and four women. Of the six main contenders, three are on the right and two on the left. (Macron says he’s in the center, which is debatable.) In 2002, 16 candidates (a record number!) competed in the first round of the French election. While this number is unusually high, in general, there are always at least 7 candidates, and at least one runs from each of the main parties featured above. 

There’s the extreme right (Rassemblement national), right (Les Républicains), center (La République en marche), left (Parti socialiste), radical left (La France insoumise), and the green party (Europe Écologie Les Verts). You can learn all about this year’s most popular candidates here and see who’s leading in the polls here

  • Practice your French: Follow election news here!

 

Vocabulary

  • le bulletin (de vote): ballot
  • le dépouillement: counting of the votes
  • le scrutin: Strangely enough, this word means many things, including election, ballot, and vote! 
  • le sondage: poll
  • l’urne: ballot box
  • le vote blanc: blank ballot 
  • le vote nul: null ballot 
  • aller aux urnes: to vote (you can also say “voter”)
  • arriver en tête: to be the top candidate
  • élire: to elect
  • se présenter aux élections: to run for office
  • remporter les élections: to win the election