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Elections in France

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Elections in France

Scene inside a polling station during the French presidential election of 2007: election officials and a standard transparent ballot box.
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
France portal

France is a representative democracy. Public officials in the legislative and executive branches are either elected by the citizens (directly or indirectly) or appointed by elected officials. Referendums may also be called to consult the French citizenry directly on a particular question, especially one which concerns amendment to the Constitution.

France elects on its national level a head of state – the president – and a legislature

  • The president is elected for a five-year term (previously, seven years), directly by the citizens (see Election of the President of the French Republic).
  • The Parliament (Parlement) has two chambers.
    • The National Assembly (Assemblée Nationale) has 577 members, elected for a five-year term in single seat-constituencies directly by the citizens.
    • The Senate (Sénat) has 348 members, 328 of which are elected for six-year terms by an electoral college consisting of elected representatives from each département, 8 of which are elected from other dependencies, and 12 of which are elected by the French Assembly of French Citizens Abroad (Assemblée des Français de l'étranger) which has replaced the High Council of French Citizens Abroad (Conseil Supérieur des Français de l'Étranger) a 155-member assembly elected by citizens living abroad.

See Government of France for more details about these political structures.

In addition, French citizens elect a variety of local governments. There also are public elections for some non-political positions, such as those for the judges of courts administering labor law (conseils de prud'hommes), elected by workers and employers, or those for judges administering cases of rural land leases.

France does not have a full-fledged two-party system; that is, a system where, though many political parties may exist, only two parties are relevant to the dynamics of power. However French politics displays some tendencies characterizing a two-party system in which power alternates between relatively stable coalitions, each being led by a major party: on the left-wing, the Socialist Party, on the right-wing, the UMP and its predecessors. See politics of France for more details.

Elections are conducted according to rules set in the Constitution of France, organisational laws (lois organiques), and the electoral code.

Elections are always held on Sundays in France.[1] The campaigns end at midnight the Friday before the election;[2] then, on election Sunday, by law, no polls can be published,[3] no electoral publication and broadcasts can be made.[4] The voting stations open at 8 am and close at 6 pm in small towns or at 8 pm in cities, depending on prefectoral decisions. By law, publication of results or estimates is prohibited prior to that time; such results are however often available from the media of e.g. Belgium and Switzerland, or from foreign Internet sites, prior to that time. The first estimate of the results are thus known at Sunday, 8pm, Paris time; one consequence is that voters in e.g. French Guiana, Martinique and Guadeloupe knew the probable results of elections whereas they had not finished voting, which allegedly discouraged them from voting. For this reason, since the 2000s, elections in French possessions in the Americas, as well as embassies and consulates there, are held on Saturdays as a special exemption.


  • Voters 1
  • Electoral system 2
  • Voting procedures 3
  • Latest election 4
    • Presidential 4.1
    • Legislative 4.2
  • Past elections and referenda 5
    • Indirect presidential elections 5.1
  • Other elections 6
    • Regional 6.1
    • European Parliament 6.2
    • Senate 6.3
    • Municipal 6.4
    • Cantonal (departemental from 2015) 6.5
    • Referendums 6.6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


Standard transparent ballot box used in France. The voter puts the envelope containing the name or the list of people for whom he or she votes and then signs the electoral roll to avoid double votes.
Some French cities use voting machines.

With the exception of senatorial election, for which there is an electoral college, the voters are French citizens over the age of 18 registered on the electoral rolls. For municipal and European elections, citizens aged 18 or older of other European Union countries may decide to vote in France. Registration is not compulsory, but the absence of registration precludes the possibility of voting. Currently, all youths reaching the age of 18 are automatically registered.

Citizens may register either in their place of residence or in a place where they have been on the roll of taxpayers for local taxes for at least 5 years. A citizen may not be legally registered in more than one place. Citizens living abroad may register at the consulate responsible for the region in which they live.

Only citizens legally registered as voters can run for public office.[5]

There are exceptions to the above rules. Convicted criminals may be deprived of their civic rights, which include the right to vote, for a certain period of time depending on the crime. In particular, elected officials who have abused public funds may be deprived of the right to run for national public office for as long as 10 years. The application of such rules in the case of certain politicians has been controversial; see for instance the case of Alain Juppé.

Voting by proxy is possible when the citizen cannot easily come to vote (reasons include: health problems, the citizen does not live in the voting consistuency, he or she is away for work or vacations, he or she is jailed yet has not been sentenced and deprived of civic rights etc.). The citizen designates a proxy, who must be a voter from the same commune. The designation of the proxy must be made before a legally capable witness: a judge, a judicial clerk, or an officier of judicial police, or, outside of France, before an ambassador or consul. In the case of handicapped or severely ill people, an officer of judicial police or delegate thereof can be sent to the home of the citizen to witness the designation. The procedure is meant to avoid pressures on voters.

Electoral system

In all elections where there is a single official to be elected for a given area, including the two major national elections (the election of the President of the Republic and the election of the members of the National Assembly), two-round runoff voting is used.

For elections to the European Parliament and some local elections, proportional voting is used.

Voting procedures

Isolation booth

In general, voting is done using paper and manual counting. The voter gets pre-printed bulletins from a table at the entrance of the voting office (they are also provided through the mail), as well as an envelope. They enter the isoloir, or isolation booth, where they're hidden from sight, and insert the appropriate bulletin into the envelope. They walk to the ballot box and show their voter registration card (not compulsory) and are required to prove their identity[6] (in towns of more than 5000 inhabitants, an identification document must be shown[7]). After the officials have acknowledged their right to vote, the ballot box is opened and the voter inserts the envelope. One of the officials traditionally loudly says "a voté", which can be translated as "your ballot has been cast". It is purely ceremonial and has a double meaning: the voter's voice will be taken into account and they've accomplished their civic duty. They then sign the voters' list, and their registration card is stamped.

Procedures differ when electronic voting, not widespread in France, is used in some cities, despite some controversy about its safety and effectiveness.

Latest election


 Summary of the 21–22 April and 5–6 May 2012 French presidential election result
Candidates Parties 1st round 2nd round
Votes % Votes %
François Hollande Socialist Party & Radical Party of the Left (Parti socialiste - Parti radical de gauche) PS / PRG 10,272,705 28.63% 18,000,668 51.64%
Nicolas Sarkozy Union for a Popular Movement (Union pour un mouvement populaire) UMP 9,753,629 27.18% 16,860,685 48.36%
Marine Le Pen National Front (Front national) FN 6,421,426 17.90%
Jean-Luc Mélenchon Left Front (Front de gauche) FG 3,984,822 11.10%
François Bayrou Democratic Movement (Mouvement démocrate) MoDem 3,275,122 9.13%
Eva Joly Europe Écologie–The Greens (Europe Écologie–Les Verts) EELV 828,345 2.31%
Nicolas Dupont-Aignan Arise the Republic (Debout la République) DLR 643,907 1.79%
Philippe Poutou New Anticapitalist Party (Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste) NPA 411,160 1.15%
Nathalie Arthaud Workers' Struggle (Lutte ouvrière) LO 202,548 0.56%
Jacques Cheminade Solidarity and Progress (Solidarité et Progrès) SP 89,545 0.25%
Total 35,883,209 100% 34,861,353 100%
Valid votes 35,883,209 98.08% 34,861,353 94.18%
Spoilt and null votes 701,190 1.92% 2,154,956 5.82%
Turnout 36,584,399 79.48% 37,016,309 80.35%
Abstentions 9,444,143 20.52% 9,049,998 19.65%
Registered voters 46,028,542 46,066,307
Table of results ordered by number of votes received in first round. Official results by Constitutional Council of France.

Source: List of candidates · First round result · Second round result


 Summary of the 10 and 17 June 2012 French National Assembly elections results
Parties and coalitions First round Second round Total
Votes % Seats Votes % Seats Seats % Swing
Socialist Party (Parti socialiste) PS 7,617,996 29.35% 22 9,420,426 40.91% 258 280 48.53% 94
Miscellaneous Left (Divers gauche) DVG 881,339 3.40% 1 709,409 3.11% 21 22 3.81% 7
Europe Ecology – The Greens (Europe Écologie – Les Verts) EELV 1,418,141 5.46% 1 828,916 3.60% 16 17 2.95% 13
Radical Party of the Left (Parti radical de gauche) PRG 429,059 1.65% 1 538,324 2.34% 11 12 2.08% 5
Presidential majority (Left) 10,346,535 39.86% 25 11,497,075 49.93% 306 331 57.70% 119
Union for a Popular Movement (Union pour un mouvement populaire) UMP 7,037,471 27.12% 9 8,740,625 37.95% 185 194 33.62% 119
Miscellaneous right (Divers droite) DVD 910,392 3.51% 1 418,135 1.82% 14 15 2.60% 6
New Centre (Nouveau Centre) NC 569,890 2.20% 1 568,288 2.47% 11 12 2.08% 10
Radical Party (Parti radical) PRV 321,054 1.24% 0 311,211 1.35% 6 6 1.04% 12
Centrist Alliance (Alliance centriste) AC 156,026 0.60% 0 123,352 0.54% 2 2 0.35% 2
Total Parliamentary Right 8,994,833 34.67% 11 10,161,611 44.13% 218 229 39.69% 116
Left Front (Front de gauche) FDG 1,792,923 6.91% 0 249,525 1.08% 10 10 1.73% 8
National Front (Front national) FN 3,528,373 13.60% 0 842,684 3.66% 2 2 0.35% 2
Regionalists and separatists REG 145,825 0.56% 0 135,534 0.59% 2 2 0.35% 2
Centre for France (Le Centre pour la France) MoDem 458,046 1.76% 0 113,196 0.49% 2 2 0.35% 1
Other far-right ExD 49,501 0.19% 0 29,738 0.13% 1 1 0.17% 1
Other far-left ExG 253,580 0.98% 0 0 0.00%
Other ecologists ECO 249,205 0.96% 0 0 0.00%
Others (Autres) AUT 133,729 0.52% 0 0 0.00%
Total 25,952,550 100% 36 23,029,183 100% 541 577 100%
Valid votes 25,952,550 98.40% 23,029,183 96.12%
Spoilt and null votes 420,749 1.60% 928,411 3.88%
Votes cast / turnout 26,373,299 57.23% 23,957,594 55.41%
Abstentions 19,709,961 42.77% 19,276,406 44.59%
Registered voters 46,083,260 43,234,000
Source: Ministry of the Interior

Past elections and referenda

Indirect presidential elections

Other elections

As well as Presidential and legislative elections, France also has municipal, cantonal, regional, European, and (indirect) Senatorial elections.


Regional elections have been held since 1986 to elect regional councillors and regional presidents: all elected to serve 6-year terms.

European Parliament

Elections for the French delegation to the European parliament are held every five years.


French senators are renewed by halves every six years through an indirect electoral college composed of elected officials and general, regional, and some local councillors.


Municipal elections to elect city mayors and councillors are held every six years.

Cantonal (departemental from 2015)


The Constitution of France defines in Article 3 that "National sovereignty shall vest in the people, who shall exercise it through their representatives and by means of referendum."[8] The Constitution describes two ways for holding a referendum:

  • The President may, on the recommendation from the Government or the Parliament, submit to a referendum some government bills.
  • A referendum may be held upon the initiative of one fifth of the Members of Parliament, supported by one tenth of the registered voters.

The Constitution explicitly states that a referendum can be called only on a Government Bill "which deals with the organization of the public authorities, or with reforms relating to the economic or social policy of the Nation, and to the public services contributing thereto, or which provides for authorization to ratify a treaty which, although not contrary to the Constitution, would affect the functioning of the institutions" (Article 11 of the Constitution[8]).

The second procedure for holding a referendum has several limitations:

  • it cannot be used to repeal laws which are in effect for less than a year, and
  • if the proposal fails on a referendum, it cannot be re-submitted to a referendum for next two years.

The second procedure for holding a referendum was added to the Constitution in 2008, and it still has not come into effect (as of 2013). It will come into effect when appropriate legislation is implemented by the Parliament.

The Constitution of France can be amended in two ways:

  • on a referendum, or
  • by three fifths super-majority of both houses of the Parliament.

Most constitutional revisions went through the super-majority of the Parliament in Congress.

Ratification of treaties of accession of states to he EU must go through the same procedure as amendment of Constitution of France. All of ratifications went through the super-majority of the Parliament, except the first EU enlargement in 1973.

There were 9 referendums in the Fifth Republic:

See also


  1. ^ "Electoral code, article L55" (in Français). 1964-10-27. Retrieved 2012-05-06. 
  2. ^ "Electoral code, article R26" (in Français). 1964-10-27. Retrieved 2012-05-06. 
  3. ^ Law 77-808 of 19 July 1977 relative to publication and broadcasting of certain opinion polls, article 11
  4. ^ "Electoral code, article L49" (in Français). Retrieved 2012-05-06. 
  5. ^ Electoral code, L44, LO127, L194
  6. ^ Electoral code, R58
  7. ^ Electoral code, R60
  8. ^ a b "Constitution". French National Assembly. Retrieved 2013-11-02. 

External links

  • Official results from the Ministry of the Interior
  • thematic files from the Constitutional Council, including election results
  • Adam Carr's Election Archive
  • Laurent de Boissieu's Election Archive
  • Will 2010 regional elections lead to political shake-up? gijon Internationale in English
  • NSD: European Election Database – France publishes regional level election data; allows for comparisons of election results, 1993–2007

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