Doing my civic duty
I went to vote for the French legislative elections yesterday afternoon, and got to talking to the lady verifying ID cards. She ended up inviting me to come back once the polls closed to help count the votes, and since I was home alone for the night, I decided to go for it. This process has a special name in French - "le dépouillement des votes". As a random side note, whenever I hear "dépouillement", it always brings to mind the image of someone digging up a coffin!
But anyways, back to the story. At 7:55pm, I returned to the polling station along with 11 others and we waited patiently for instructions. They had us sit down four to a table and then passed out two large pieces of paper. Each paper had a list of each of the candidates and then lines where we could mark the number of votes they got. It was a very similar format to this one from the presidential election:
Looking around the room, there was a mix of all ages - though I would say it was skewed to the older and younger ages of the spectrum, without many middle-aged folks. At my table, there was a retiree, myself and two students. I asked if the three others had done this before, but we were all newbies, so no one really knew what to expect. Looking at the voting box, the elderly gentleman said that it didn't look like there were many votes in there, and I said that I'd seen on the internet that only 21% of people had voted by 2pm. One of the two young girls said that she'd heard that it was up to 60% by 6pm, but that it was still one of the lowest turnouts ever for a legislative election.
Then the officials came around to explain how it worked. Each table would get an envelope with 100 votes and we were to count them and verify there really was 100 there (both times, we had 102 in our envelope). Then one person was charged with opening the envelope, the other had to read it out loud and then the remaining two each filled out one of the big sheets as the names were read. Once we finished our 100 and verified that both papers had matching vote numbers, they would bring another envelope. This isn't my picture since I didn't dare bring my camera, but this is essentially what our table looked like (minus the folks standing around watching):
I offered to record the votes along with another one of the girls. After the first 100, the other two asked if we wanted to switch, and I said no because I was worried I'd mispronounce some of the names because of my accent (there were some weird ones in there). They said "What accent?" and I explained that I was born in the US. And then I wished I'd kept my mouth shut since I probably would have been able to remain the anonymous foreigner.
Part of me was nervous to participate in the counting, given the racist undertones of this election, and I wasn't quite sure what the others at the table would think about having a non-native French person helping count the votes. I had a little speech prepared in my head about why I wanted to become French and how I think voting is every citizen's duty, but none of them even seemed to wonder how I was able to vote here. Instead they were more interested in asking about where I came from and what I was doing in France.
And then it was back to counting. We also had to makes piles for each of the candidates so that they could be recounted later in case the two people logging the votes didn't end up with the same number:
Any invalid votes or empty envelopes had to be placed aside for a later count, at which time all four of us were required to sign them as proof that they were really empty.
The officials walking around were all very friendly and I was able to ask several questions as the night went on. One of the big differences between French and US elections is that in France, they announce the winner the minute the polls have closed. I've always wondered how this was possible, especially now that I see how long it takes to count the votes (it took us a little over an hour to count our measly few). I was told it was because most polling stations in France close at 6pm, so the outside of Paris and a few other cities, all of the votes have been counted by the time 8pm rolls around. That part I understand, but I still don't get how they can call it without having counted the votes in the capital and other major cities, especially given their large populations and the fact that the elections are often close (within a percent or two). But yet every time they do manage to call it, without having hoards of people counting for recounts.
Secondly, I asked how many people were registered at our "bureau de vote". He replied that there were 1362 registered voters, and that out of those, 849 had voted, amounting to 62% of our neighborhood. However they had only counted 846 envelopes, and they were hoping to recover the remaining three as the night went on (as a miscount in one of the envelopes of 100).
Out of the 849 votes, 6 were invalid. We had two of them at our table and they were both empty envelopes. I've never really gotten the concept of a "vote blanc". Like you got all the way down to the polling station, wait in line and then don't even have your vote counted towards anything. I know it's a sort of way to "sending a message to the Man", but come on, if you do that, you can't really complain about the results of the election afterwards. I heard all kinds of ads on the radio this week encouraging people to vote and to "not let others decide for you", which is a statement I definitely agree with.