The election process in France is both similar to and different from that in the United States. In France, the president is elected directly in two separate stages of voting. All political parties participate in the first round, typically advocating for their own candidates; however, presidential candidates must obtain 500 endorsements that are signed by elected officials in order to be placed securely on the ballot (Alvarez-Rivera, 2012.) In situations where no candidate is able to obtain a majority of all of the legitimate votes that are cast in the first round, then the two who have received the most votes are involved in a runoff election. In the runoff, the person who secures the largest number of votes wins the election for a five-year term. Originally, as in the United States, an electoral college selected the president but in 1962, a constitutional amendment reformed the presidential election to a popular vote in the runoff contest. After that, another constitutional amendment modified the term of the president from seven years to five years.
The lawmaking body is comprised of the National Assembly members, 577 individuals who are elected every five years by the same runoff voting system as the presidential election. Those candidates who are able to collect a majority of valid votes as well as a vote total that is equal to at least 25% of the registered electorate are elected in the first phase; if not, a runoff election takes place involving candidates who poll a number of votes that is greater than or equal to 12.5% of the electorate (Alvarez-Rivera, 2012.) If at least two candidates do not meet these requirements, the top two are involved in a runoff. During the second phase, the person who gets the largest number of votes wins the election. In addition, according to the runoff system, if someone wins a simple majority in the first round of voting, he or she does not necessarily win in the second round. In at least three elections, the person who won the first balloting round for the presidency was defeated in the runoff.
There are several political parties in France, and from 1958 to 1974, the Gaullist Party dominated French politics. However, there was significant electoral support for other opposition parties as well during this period. An unusual aspect of French legislative elections is that candidates in these contests form a pair: one is the official candidate, but each official candidate has a substitute, or suppleant. The substitute is a form of alternate who is elected alongside the candidate and who will fill the deputy’s seat in a situation where the lawmaker dies in office, is appointed to another government position, or receives a public mission that lasts for more than six months (Mini Guide to the French 2012 Legislative Elections, 2012.) In such situations, the lawmaker resigns and a by-election takes place. The French Constitution dictates that the deputy represents not only his constituency or home region, but the nation as a whole. As a result, a candidate may run for office legally in a jurisdiction where he or she is not registered to vote. Although voters are not always responsive to the notion of a carpetbagger, there is no law in France that prevents this kind of activity.
Redistricting continues to be the prerogative of partisan governments in France; like in the US redistricting frequently occurs in a partisan way; however, unlike in the USA, there is no law that requires redistricting to be done after a certain amount of time or on a certain schedule. This procedure is different than those in the United Kingdom and Canada, because there is no independent electoral commission that takes responsibility for establishing constituencies. Instead, it is the choice of a political official, namely the Minister of the Interior, as well as the government that is in power. Since 1958, there have only been two rounds of redistricting, and the resulting map was a creation of right-wing governments in France.
- Alvarez-Rivera, M. (2012, June 21). Presidential and Legislative Elections in France. Retrieved from Election Resources org: http://www.electionresources.org/fr/
- Mini Guide to the 2012 French Legislative Elections. (2012, June 7). Retrieved from http://www.elections.WordPress.com/2012/0 6/07/france-legislative-elections-2012-guide/