Notes on French Electoral System



Key points from different articles in the French Electoral Code. (Code Électoral. Paris : Dalloz 1992)


(see Art. L. 51.) During the electoral period there are places reserved in each commune by the municipal authorities for electoral publicity.

In each of these places an equal amount of space is reserved for each candidate or list of candidates. (Unlike in Australia where posters are plastered everywhere around the polling areas.)


During the three months preceding the first day of the month of an election right up till the elections all publicity relative to the elections that is outside the space reserved for the elections, or on the space reserved for another candidate, is forbidden.


(see Art. R. 27.)

indicates that the combination of the three colours (red white and blue) is forbidden on electoral publicity. No party can claim ownership of the national colours.


(see Art. R. 29.) indicates that each candidate or list of candidates can only send one circular (of a size no bigger than 210mm x 297mm) to the electors.

(This article is problematic today as there can be unlimited material on-line describing the policies of the Party – and rightly so – as thevoters wish to know in detail the policies of the party they are voting for so that they can be held accountable.)


(see Art. L. 167-1.)

Radio and TV can be used for the legislative electoral campaign. For the first round, three hours are allocated to the political parties and groups represented in the National Assembly.


This time is divided into two equal parts – one for the majority and the other for groups that do not belong to the majority.


The presidents of these groups then divide up the time allocated in relation to their respective importance.


The second round allows for 90 minutes of time on radio and TV.


There is no legal obligation for the press not to show a preference for one of the candidates.


Radio stations and TV channels cannot program political debates on the last day of the electoral campaign. (This is considered as a cooling-off period.)


(see Art. L.52-8)

Financial contribution for the campaign of a candidate of more than $250 have to be paid by cheque. Cash donations cannot exceed 20% of the amount authorised for the elections.


No electoral funding from foreigners or foreign states.


The funding of each election (MP, President) is limited by law (unlike in the USA where there is no limit.).


(see Art. L.52.12.)

An election bank account has to be opened at the beginning of the campaign and all the money received and paid has to be accounted for.

The Campaign Account is verified by Chartered Accountants and all bills and receipts must be provided.


It is worth noting also here that if for someone wishes to print material for free for the candidate to distribute during the elections, this has to be costed and must figure in the accounts that are  to be audited.


(see Art. R.41.)

The Polling Office is open from 8am to 6pm (the same day)


(see Art. L. 64.) The poll lasts one day

(see Art. L. 55.) It takes place on a Sunday

(see Art. L. 56.) If there is a second round then it will take place on the following Sunday

(see Art. L. 57.) The only people who can vote are those whose names were on the list for the first round.

(see Art. L. 59.) It is a secret ballot.

(see Art. L. 60.) Each voting paper is placed in an envelope of a different colour to that of the first round.

All the voting slips are made available to the electors in the Polling Office.

The number of envelopes must be the same as the number of people on the voting list.


(see Art. L. 62.) (…) There must be one polling booth for 300 electors (or group thereof) on the list.


(see Art. R. 42) Each Polling Office has a president, and at least 4 assessors and a secretary chosen from the electors of the commune.

The secretary only has consultative powers during any debate among the president/assessors.

At least three members of the above group of people must be present at any given time during the activities of the Polling Office.


ID Papers that can be presented in order to vote include the following :

National ID card;

Military Card;

Passport (post 1944);

Official Family Record Book : Livret de famille;

Social Security Card;

Driving Licence;

Civil Servant’s ID card.

(Not so long ago a former Prime Minister (Alain Juppé) was told to go home and get his ID papers before he was allowed to vote.)

(People normally present their electoral card as well – and this card is stamped.)


(see Art. R.62.)

As soon as the Polling Office closes the list of signatures of the electors who have voted is signed by the assessors, the secretary and the president and the number of people who have voted is counted

(see Art. R.63.)

The ballot papers are then counted.


(Art. L. 66. – a selection of rules)

A ballot paper is considered null and void in the following circumstances.

-          if it can be identified

-          if it has been placed in a different envelope

-          if it has been screwed up in an unusual way

-          if a name has been circled

-          a pinhole has been placed in the “i” of a name

-          if it has been turned into a paper plane, etc.

-          if it is with a white sheet of paper.

-          if the list of candidates has been modified

-          if it contains a rude comment (This is not true in Australia as long as the preferred candidate and the preferences are obvious.)


To be elected at the end of the first round a candidate must obtain the absolute majority of the votes and a number of votes equal to at least a quarter of the electors on the roll.

At the end of the second round a simple majority is sufficient to be elected.

If there is a draw, then the oldest candidate is elected.


NOTE : The Socialist Party intends to stop the financing of political parties by companies.


Australia invented the polling booth. This was a step forward in ensuring that ballots are really secret.

However, the French added the black curtain that must be in front of each booth to ensure privacy…


The Socialist Party in particular is very concerned with parity: i.e. the need to ensure that there are equal numbers of men and women in parliament.


Insider Information:


If you are minister for public works and if you own a company or have shares in a company that is tendering for contracts in your area of government responsibility – this would be considered as a conflict of interest and you would either be sent to prison or fined.


Ministers and members of parliament do not comment on cases under consideration in the different Tribunaux. This would be regarded as interfering with the judicial process. In Australia we sometimes hear politicians commenting on cases under consideration.


A multiparty system


In some countries the multiparty system leads to political chaos and to the lack of government leadership. Such a system in France leads to what could be called “intelligent compromises”.


However in Britain, the Labour party does not systematically nationalise what the Conservatives have nationalised.  But you do have a blurring of policies and political choices.


Australia, Britain and the USA have essentially a two party system – For some people it is difficult to distinguish between the Democrats and the Republicans in the USA.


FRANCE has 570 Members of Parliament. They are elected for 5 years.

Senators are elected for 9 years. (304 in all.)

A third of them come up for re-election …

They are elected by the members of parliament for the region they represent. (Regional and Local Govt Counsellors.)


A civil servant can be a candidate for an election in France and is not obliged to resign from his/her position before the election. The candidate  only resigns if s/he is elected.


Voting is not compulsory in France.


The French Electoral Code is based on procedure and not precedence.


No distribution of electoral material outside the electoral office on the day of the election.


You can only vote at the electoral office where your name is recorded. (Someone from your electoral district can vote for you – if you have signed an official procuration at the town hall. The person who is to vote for you will present this form to the electoral office.) In the case of legislative and presidential elections it is possible to vote at the French Embassy or at certain consulates if you are registered at the Embassy as an expatriate.


Generally speaking, the French Codes are clearly written and are not full of archaisms.


The Maastricht Treaty introduced a new law that allows citizens of the European Union to vote and to be elected in the European and municipal elections in a member state other than the one they originate from.

But s/he

-          must have the nationality of a member state of the EU;

-          must reside in the country where s/he desires to vote;

-          must not be deprived of his/her civic rights.




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