Voting in France: paper ballots, in person, counted by hand

French voters in Sunday’s presidential election will use the same system that has been used for generations: paper ballots that are cast in person and counted by hand. Despite periodic calls for greater flexibility or modernization, France does not conduct mail-in voting, early voting, or use mass voting machines like the United States.

President Emmanuel Macron is the favourite, though he faces a tough challenge from far-right leader Marine Le Pen and voter uncertainty: a record proportion of people told pollsters in recent days they were unsure who they would vote for or if they would vote. I would vote at all.


Voters must be at least 18 years old. Some 48.7 million French people are registered in the electoral rolls of the place where they reside.

Voters make their choices in a booth, with the curtains drawn, then place their ballot in an envelope which is then placed in a clear ballot box. They must show a photo ID and sign a document, along with their name, to complete the process.

Volunteers count the ballots one by one. Officials will then use state-run software to record and report the results.

But legally only the paper counts. If a result is disputed, paper ballots are manually counted.


People who cannot go to the polls for various reasons can authorize another person to vote for them.

To do so, a voter must fill out a form in advance and bring it to a police station. A person may be a representative of no more than one voter living in France, and potentially one additional person living abroad.

Up to 7% of the people voted by proxy in the last presidential election five years ago.


Voting by mail was banned in 1975 due to fears of possible fraud.

Automatic voting was allowed as an experiment starting in 2002, but the purchase of new machines has been frozen since 2008 due to security concerns. Only a few dozen cities still use them.

Last year, Macron’s centrist government tried to pass an amendment to allow early voting by machine to encourage voter turnout amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Senate, led by a conservative majority, rejected the measure, arguing that it was announced with too little notice and was not legally strong enough.


Most of the COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted in the country. Although the number of cases is significantly lower than at the beginning of this year, infections have been rising again for several weeks, reaching more than 130,000 new confirmed cases each day.

People who test positive for the virus can go to the polls. They are strongly encouraged to wear a mask and follow other health guidelines.

Voters can wash their hands at polling stations, which will also have hand sanitizer available. The equipment will be cleaned frequently. Each polling station will let in fresh air for at least 10 minutes every hour.


The presidential elections in France are organized in two rounds. Twelve candidates met the conditions for Sunday’s vote.

In theory someone could win outright by getting more than 50% of the vote in the first round, but that has never happened in France.

In practice, the two main contenders qualify for a second round and the winner is chosen on April 24.


Follow AP coverage of the French election at

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