The following is a guest post from Nicolas Boring, foreign law specialist covering French speaking jurisdictions at the Law Library of Congress.
France has just finished its election season! French citizens elected Emmanuel Macron as their new president earlier in May, and they returned to the voting booths on June 11 and June 18 for parliamentary elections.
One of the things that seems to surprise American observers most about French elections is the ability to vote by proxy. Voting by proxy is governed by articles L71 to L78 and articles R72 to R80 of the French Electoral Code. The basic principle is that a voter who cannot vote on election day, in the place where he/she is registered, can authorize someone else to vote on his/her behalf. It used to be, until 2003, that a voter could only use a proxy if he/she had a “good reason” to not be able to vote in person, such as being away due to professional obligations, a handicap, health reasons or to take care of a handicapped, sick or elderly person. But the requirements were loosened in 2003, such that it is now possible to vote by proxy even if one’s absence is due to being on vacation.
To establish a proxy, a voter simply has to fill out a form and submit it to the courthouse of his/her place of residence or work, or to any police or Gendarmerie station. If a person is unable to physically go to the courthouse or law enforcement station due to a handicap or health problem, that person can request that a police officer come to his/her home in order to establish a proxy (anyone asking for a police officer to come for this purpose must submit a medical certificate to show that the request is not frivolous). French citizens residing abroad can submit the form at a French embassy or consulate. In submitting his/her form, the voter must show a piece of identification and make a statement “on his/her honor” regarding the reason for being unable to vote in person on election day. The person designated as the proxy must have the right to vote and must be registered in the same place as the person on whose behalf he/she is voting. A person may be the proxy of two voters, but not more. If a person was designated as the proxy of more than two people, then only the first two will be taken into account and the rest will be deemed invalid.
Approximately 1.5 million voters, comprising about 5% of the voting population, used proxies during the 2012 French presidential elections. I was not able to find how many voters used proxies in the 2017 presidential elections, but there are reports that the numbers may have been even higher than in 2012. This appears to have been especially true for the second round, which occurred on May 7th, due to the combination of two main factors: May 8th (Victory in Europe Day) is a national holiday in France, which means that many people were away for the long weekend, yet the high-stakes race between the two finalist candidates (Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron) increased voters’ motivation to cast their ballot.
It is unclear whether fraud is a significant problem with regards to proxy voting. However, it should be noted that the consequences for fraudulent proxy voting are pretty serious: article L111 of the Electoral Code punishes proxy voting fraud with a fine of up to €15,000 (approximately US$16,780) and up to two years of jail time.