A voté: How to register and cast your vote in France

Former Prime Minister of France, Edouard Philippe, with his ID and voter registration cards, as he casts his vote in the mayoral elections in June 2020
Photo: Sameer Al-Doumy / AFP
With presidential elections coming up next year, many recently-naturalised French citizens will be voting for the first time. Here's how to work out if you are eligible and how to make sure your voice is heard.

Every French citizen is entitled to vote in local, regional, national and European elections, while EU citizens can vote at local and European level, but cannot express their ballot box preference for the next President.

Since the last Presidential election in 2017, tens of thousands of foreigners have been granted French citizenship (including many Brits who took French nationality in the aftermath of Brexit) meaning they now get to cast their vote for the next French president.

READ ALSO Five minutes to understand the 2022 French presidential election

So how do you register to vote and what happens on the day itself?

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The legal voting age in France is 18 years old.

To be able to vote, French citizens must be registered on the main electoral roll at the municipal offices of their place of residence. French citizens should be automatically registered when they turn 18, while recently naturalised citizens are also added to the list. 

To check if you are listed on the main electoral roll for your locality, click here. If you are not, there are steps you can take.

You can also make sure your registration is in order at your local mairie’s offices. You will need:

  • Proof of identity;

  • Proof of nationality (a passport or certificate of naturalisation);

  • Proof of address (a rent receipt, tax return, water or electricity bill);

  • A completed vote registration form – find that here

You must also be on an additional, annually updated, roll in order to take part in individual elections. You can do this online, here. The deadline for registration for the 2022 Presidential elections (set for April 10th and April 24th, 2022) is March 4th, 2022. 

The deadline to register to vote in time for the 2022 parliamentary elections (which take place on June 12th and June 19th, 2022) is May 6th, 2022.

Again, you can register in person at your local mairie’s offices if you prefer.

EU voters

There are two further electoral rolls, one to vote in European Parliamentary elections, and one to vote in municipal elections. EU citizens are able to vote in these elections if they wish, but have to be on these rolls. 

In European elections, voters must choose when registering the country in which they will vote, because it is illegal to vote in two EU countries at the same time.

What about non-EU citizens?

Twelve EU states, including Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, Netherlands and Sweden, allow all foreigners with a residence permit to vote in local elections. 

France, however, still does not permit non-EU citizens to vote in any elections – local or presidential. This can only change if the Constitutions is changed.

What happens on the day

Sunday is Polling Day in France – whether they’re for local, regional, national, European or Presidential elections. The idea is to ensure as many people as possible have the time and freedom to cast their ballot.

After their voter registration card – which lists the polling station the voter should attend – and ID documents have been checked, voters head to a table which holds a pile of envelopes and several piles of ballot papers – one for each of the candidates. 

They must take an envelope and at least two candidate ballot papers into a booth, where they put the paper of the candidate they wish to vote for into the envelope and seal it. Voters who want to exercise their right, but don’t want to vote for any of the candidates can cast so-called ‘blanc’ votes, by sealing an empty envelope.

Then, they take their sealed envelope and head to a locked, transparent ballot box, where staff check their ID again and confirm that they have just one envelope to put in the ballot box.

The ballot box is double-locked before voting begins, and each of the two keys is held by a separate election official to prevent tampering.

A poll worker pulls a lever that opens a slit wide enough to accept the voter’s envelope. 

The voter posts their vote through the slit into the transparent box. The poll worker then closes the ballot box – and a simple mechanical counter adds one vote to the total tally. It’s a simple and straightforward way of maintaining an accurate count.

At the same time, the poll worker who closes the ballot box will say – or, perhaps intone or declare – a voté

There’s no particular reason for this, other than tradition in a country that, despite a drop-off in polling numbers in recent years, still takes the voting process seriously.

Voters are expected to turn up in person. Those who cannot, for any reason, can nominate a proxy to vote in person on their behalf. The proxy must be registered to vote on the local electoral roll.

Postal voting has not been allowed since 1975, but French citizens living overseas can vote online in certain circumstances.

Before the voter leaves the polling station, they can have their carte éléctorale stamped as confirmation that they have cast their vote.

Second round

Once you’ve got over the excitement of voting once, you may get to do it all over again. 

If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round, then a second round of voting is held two weeks later. Presidential elections virtually always have a second round while local elections usually do in big cities, while sometimes smaller places with only a few candidates see one person get the required 50 percent in round one.

READ ALSO What you need to know about France’s (very complicated) municipal elections

If there is a second round, it is always held two weeks after the first, again on a Sunday, and you get to go down to the local polling booth and hear a voté for a second time.

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