Voting in French Municipal Elections
Following Brexit, British residents in France have likely received notification of their removal from the French municipal electoral roll. It’s still good to understand what’s going on though, and for other non-British EU citizens, here’s a run down of the process, which can be pretty tricky!
A) Conseil Municipal
The number of seats on a council relates to the size of the population, as set out in the following table:
B) Presenting Lists & the Election Process
There are different regulations for communes of different sizes and the rules have changed since we last published this article.
Information here is taken from the guidelines published for 2020 on the government’s website.
In communes with a population of 1,000 or more, the lists must be made up of as many women as men, alternating between a man and a woman.
In communes of under 1000 inhabitants, the ballot is a two-round, multi-member majority system. Candidates may stand alone or as a group. The number of votes is then calculated per candidate.
In the first round, candidates are elected to the municipal council if they have obtained both the votes of at least 25% of the registered voters and an absolute majority of the votes cast.
In the second round, the candidates who obtain the most votes are elected, within the limit of the seats remaining to be filled.
In communes of 1,000 inhabitants or more, the voting method is the two-round proportional list system with a majority bonus.
In the first round, if a list obtains an absolute majority of the votes cast, half of the seats are allocated to it. This is the majority bonus. The other half of the seats is distributed proportionally among all the lists that obtained more than 5% of the votes cast.
If no list obtains an absolute majority, a second round is held. Only those lists having obtained at least 10% of the votes cast in the first round may stand for re-election.
Candidates who obtained at least 5% and less than 10% may join another list. The distribution of seats in the municipal council is done as in the first round: majority bonus with proportional distribution to the highest average.
In all communes of under 1000 inhabitants you do not have to vote for a whole list: it is possible to vote for names on different lists and to cross off or add on names, either from another list or not.
You can even add on names of people who have not figured on any lists: this is called panachage (vote-splitting).
When you get to the mairie, you must present your carte électorale. There will be at least one list on the table for you to pick up: you then go into the isoloir to make up your list.
You can either put the original list unchanged into the voting box, or make changes as desired. You can put more than one list into the ballot box, provided that you have not left more names than seats: any such vote would be disqualified.
If a single list is put in the ballot-box, which has more names added to it than there are seats, the vote will not be disqualified, but any supernumerary names (counting from the bottom upwards) will be not be taken into consideration.
If you don’t know any of the names on the lists, it is time you started to talk to your neighbours!
D) Getting elected:
As well as the general information provided in point B, there is also another twist to the story in that it is possible to get elected without having been on any list at all!
If you want to be on the council but you don’t want to put your name on a list (for example, if you don’t want to appear to be challenging the main list, but haven’t been asked to be on it), you could lobby voters in the commune to vote for you by simply asking them to add your name to the list they put in the box.
However, this could well be interpreted by the local population as being underhand and undemocratic (especially if seen as British conspiracy!), and it is better to claim your candidature openly. If a candidate is elected against his/her will, they are able to submit their resignation.
E) Choosing the mayor:
The mayor is elected by scrutin indirect. This means that the voters elect the council and then the council elects the mayor.
Council members vote for the mayor at the first meeting, which should technically be chaired by the oldest member of the newly elected council, though this is often ignored, especially if the outgoing maire has been re-elected.
In the first two rounds, the maire is elected by absolute majority, but a relative majority is sufficient if there is a third round. The council then decides how many adjoints (deputies) to appoint, with responsibility for particular areas of policy: the number of deputies cannot exceed 30% of the total number of councillors.
F) Standing as a local councillor
Eligible residents living in very small communes who would like to stand for election, should start by talking to other local people in order to get a sense of what the situation is regarding the current maire.
Does he/she intend to stand again?
Do you get on well with him/her?
Might he/she be interested in having you on his/her list?
Are there likely to be any attempts to dislodge him/her?
Are you on better terms with ‘the opposition’ than the current maire?
Are relations between people in your commune generally conflictual or consensual?
What are the issues of contention and what are your own views on them?
Assuming that your French is good enough to cope with council meetings, you should start showing interest in the elections and in council business generally. All citizens can sit in on the meetings of their own council, though with no right to speak.
Times and dates of council meetings will be pinned up on the board outside the mairie. Some councils have monthly meetings lasting up to three hours, while others only meet every three months for an hour or two.
If you are already known in the community and have reasonable French, you may well be asked to join a list, especially if you are a woman. Even though the parity law does not affect small communes, many maires espouse its political objectives, and are trying to increase female representation.
Many are also very European minded and will be trying to get EU residents involved in the council’s activities: it is not always easy to find sufficient competent people to fill all the council places in very small communes.
In a general way, the best way to increase your chance of getting elected is to make yourself known in the local community, and let it be known that you would be interested in being a candidate, but without being too pushy. This is particularly important in areas with very high levels of British residents, where the local population might well be fearing a take-over by the perfidious Albion!
G) Elections cantonales:
Some communes will also be organising simultaneous elections for the Conseil Général (at the level of the département). Half of these councils are renewed every three years.
One councillor is elected for each canton (a grouping of communes). This ballot is uninominal, meaning you vote for one candidate and their suppléant (stand in). There must be parity amongst candidates: if the main candidate is male, the suppléant must be female.
The voting for the cantonale election should take place in a different place to the municipale: this could be a different room in the same building.
The counting of votes in small communes is a fascinating event in French politics and is highly recommended for anyone with even a limited interest in politics: everyone is allowed to go in to the mairie and watch as the lists are deciphered.
If you think this explanation sounds complicated, you will understand it better once you have observed it.