Understanding the Municipal Elections in France


"La Mairie de Paris"  Auteur : Etudiants du Monde, 2008

“Hôtel de Ville de Paris”
Auteur : Etudiants du Monde, 2008

First: what is a Municipality?

In France a municipality is referred to as a « commune ». The French word commune appeared in the 12th century, from Medieval Latin « communia », meaning a large gathering of people sharing a common life; from Latin « communis », things held in common.
It consists of the municipal council and the executive which is the mayor and deputy mayor. The mayor, elected by the councillors, is solely responsible for the administration. But he can delegate some of his functions to one or more deputies. In Paris there is a council for the whole city and for each arrondissement. The term hôtel de ville designates the building which houses la mairie. The terme mairie designates the communal administration since the Révolution of 1789. In smaller towns mairie is used for both the building and the administration.

Who is elected at the Municipal Elections ?

All French municipalities will elect their local councillors for 6 years all at one time in just a few weeks. Councillors are elected by direct universal suffrage by the French and European voters registered on the electoral lists. Councillors will then elect the mayor and deputies. In Paris, and in all municipalities of more than 3,500 inhabitants, municipal elections are held by district (“arrondissement”). The district councils elect district mayors a week after the election.

In each district, the first person elected from each list (Concillors of Paris) also sit on the Council of the whole city of Paris, which then elects the mayor of Paris. Others on the elected list only sit at the district Council.

"Carte Electorale"  http://www.wannehain.net

“Carte Electorale” http://www.wannehain.net

Who can vote ?

-If you are over 18 and you are French, you can vote, provided that you are registered on the electoral list in your « commune ».
-If you are a citizen of the European Union and that you are over 18, you can vote, provided that you are registered on the supplementary electoral list of where you live in France.

When will The French vote ?

The next elections will be held on Sundays 23 and 30 March 2014. French elections always take place on Sunday. If no candidate or list gains an absolute majority (50 per cent), a second round is held a week later.

What happens on voting day? (A Parisienne’s own experience!)

First of all you have to go to your local polling station. Since elections generally take place over a one- or two-day span on a periodic basis, often annual or longer, polling places are usually located in facilities used for other purposes, such as schools, churches, sports hall. For me it has always been in my old school which is quite a funny experience to go back there. No more lessons, now it’s time to get serious and vote! When you arrive you have to show your ID card and electoral card so they can give you the precious envelope and check that you are at the rigth polling place. You can find ballot slips for each candidate on the main table and you can pick all of them if you want to make sure no one can see who you are going to vote for. Some people just take one and then it’s pretty obvious who they are voting for but it is a secret vote. Then you go to the voting booth so you have privacy when you put

“A voté”

your chosen ballot slip in the envelope. Once it is done you have to put your envelope in the ballot box. After signing, someone shouts “a voté!” (voted) and it is done! You can go back home and watch the results on TV later in the evening (and start a passionate debate about politics with your family – that’s how we do it in France!)

What’s new in 2014? 

Many people will be voting for town councillors and also community councillors for their “communauté des communes”. There seems to be a movement currently to regroup communes into larger entitites at least for certain parts of the administration such as garbage collection. For example three towns in the Yvelines department Villepreux, Plaisir and les Clayes-sous-Bois will have a community council. Another group sharing services is Communauté d’agglomération Grand Paris Seine Ouest, which regroups 9 communes : Boulogne-Billancourt, Chaville, Issy-les-Moulineaux, Marnes-la-Coquette, Meudon, Sèvres, Vanves, Ville-d’Avray and Vélizy-Villacoublay.

Fun Facts :


Smallest Town Hall in France – How cute !

-The first mayor of Paris , Jean Sylvain Bailly, was elected after the storming of the Bastille on 15 July 1789.

-In case of a tie, the older candidate is elected.

-Paris is the only town to also be a department, the mayor of Paris is also the President of the General Council (of the department).

-André Cornu (Bazolles – Nièvre) is the mayor who had the longest term : 72 years! ! !

-The smallest town hall in France is in Normandy, in the Eure department. It is called Saint-Germain de Pasquier, a charming little village of 139 inhabitants located in the heart of the valley of Oison.

-There are 36682 communes in France!  There are even 6 communes with no inhabitants (these 6 communes were destroyed by the fighting in WWI and remain on the map and continue to have councils – named by the Prefet de la Meuse – in rememberance). There are also 22 communes with less than 10 inhabitants.

Some useful vocabulary :

If you hear those words on TV now you will know what they mean!

scrutin : ballot
isoloir : voting booth
les bulletins : ballot slips
l’enveloppe : the envelope
l’urne : the ballot box
émarger : to sign to register
dépouillement : analysis, opening the envelopes and counting ballots
procès-verbal : official report
vote blanc : blank or protest vote (an empty envelope) which is not counted
vote nul : spoilt vote, uncounted (you must not write on the ballot slip!)

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One Response to "Understanding the Municipal Elections in France"

  1. Shari Leslie Segall dit :

    Great idea for an article! Thanks! S/

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