Sunday, 23 March 2014

How My Boyfriend's Dog Garnered Votes in the Municipal Elections

Early this afternoon, Understanding Frenchman and I went to exercise our democratic rights and fulfil our civic duties at the local polling station. (Like so many things in France, voting is best carried out at lunch time because everyone else is eating so you don't have to queue.) The procedure is pretty simple, although slightly different from in the UK. You show your voting card and collect slips of paper with the lists of candidates for each of the parties, along with a little blue envelope. Then you go into the isoloir and put one of the slips into the envelope. You can either keep the rest or throw them away. Then you take your envelope to another desk, where there are two officials. One looks at your ID, checks that you are on the list and are eligible to vote, then states "Peut voter." Then you post your envelope into the urn and the second official announces, "a voté." (My name was on a separate list of EU voters, so they had to look me up twice.) You then sign the register and that's you done.

Until the next week, of course. As in the presidential elections, there are two rounds, unless one party gains at least 50% of the vote in the first round. The first round eliminates parties which don't gain a high enough percentage of the vote, while the second determines the proportion of councillors from each list that will make up the municipal council. If you choose to voter blanc by putting nothing in the envelope, your vote counts towards the total number of votes used to calculate the percentage in the first round but has no effect in the second round. Parties which don't gain enough votes also have the option of forming a kind of coalition with another party, handing over their percentage of the vote in return for places on its list.

As if that wasn't complicated enough, the rules are different in communes which have less than 1000 inhabitants. In those places, independent candidates can stand for election, and the list does not have to include as many candidates as there are seats on the council. What's more, voters are allowed to cross out the names of candidates on one list and replace them with the names of candidates on another list, even if their policies are totally different and they are not in any kind of political alliance. This process is called panachage and is supposed to make it possible to have an opposition in elections where the number of voters is so small as to make this statistically unlikely.

And what about my boyfriend's dog? Well, in the past, in those small communes, you were allowed to replace the names of official candidates with people who hadn't even stood for election. When Understanding Frenchman was little, his dad was president and the family dog something of a mascot for the village football club. Some jokers, who were obviously not that impressed with the candidates on offer, chose to score out the human names and replace them with Toto's.

Sadly, the dog is no more and the law changed this year so that le panachage is restricted to people whe have actually put themselves forward for election, so we'll just have to hope that our human representatives are capable of wiser choices than our canine companions this time round.


  1. I had never heard of the "dog trick" but I id heard of dead constituents voting, including in Corsica ;-)

  2. I voted too! Not having the benefit of an Understanding Frenchman, I was a bit confused with the paper in the envelope business... "Wait, I don't write anything? I just put it in?"

    1. Yay - glad you got your papers on time! I'd watched UFM vote in the presidential elections last year, so I knew roughly what to do, but all those bits of paper were a bit confusing, so I asked them to tell me just in case I got it wrong. They told me you had to take at least two of the lists, but some people apparently only take one and don't even bother going into the booth, so if I'd tried to copy them I'd be taking a very dim view of the secrecy of French elections!