The European Election is the second biggest election in the world in terms of number of voters, only India has more. The objective is to elect the 751 members of the European parliament, thus it concerns 28 countries. There are 2686 candidates in France alone. Each list from all of the 34 parties presenting candidates must have 79 members alternating strictly between men and women. The lists are organized vertically following their leader. This is a proportional election, so according to the percentage of the vote won by the party the first X candidates of the list will go to parliament. In France a party must have at least 5% in order to win any seats; other countries do not have minimums or have lower minimum percentages. The French lists are required to have 79 members each just in case one list sweeps the vote and thus wins all of France seats (hard to imagine!). There is a complication (not just one) this year stemming from the Brexit. France currently has 75 seats, but will have 4 more once the Brexit happens and the British seats are redistributed to countries who have grown since the last distribution of seats. So 5 of the French who are elected will not be able to assume their seats until after the Brexit. 14 of the seats which Britain will vacate are reserved for an eventual new member country entering the Union (Serbia?). This is the ninth European parliamentary election; terms are for 5 years. Also being decided this year is the composition of the European Commission, the Executive body of Europe. This will be done by the European Council and the Parliament after the elections.
Why are so many of the official European election boards blank just a few days before the vote?
Since we are voting this coming weekend we are currently seeing the election poster boards outside the polling places. As for every election in France all parties must have a board big enough to fit one large and one small poster outside each polling station. PLUS the set of boards must have one labeled “0” for the administrative mumbo jumbo. The current European election has been quite a casse-tête for the municipalities who are obliged first to find then find space for 35 boards (or at least 18 which can be divided in two). But why are so many of the boards blank just a few days before the vote? There are 80,000 boards, which means a huge printing bill for posters and then you have to have them posted. The larger parties do this by hiring France Affichage Plus who makes the rounds to put up posters. In fact FA+ makes the rounds twice; the second round to replace defaced posters. So the big parties are printing 157,000 posters! Using 6 tons of paper…each. With limited budgets the smaller parties must make choices and rely on party members to do the posting.
Another way the parties spend money is on the mission statement leaflet that is mailed to every voter. Again a huge printing bill forces choices. The Animal Party has thus chosen the more publicly visible posters (are you not seeing that cute beagle everywhere!?) and have not done the profession de foi leaflet (This term sounds religious and it is in a sense as it is the same phrase used for confirmation in the church. It simply means however the make an open and public declaration of one’s beliefs.) The Ecology Emergency party has chosen posters over printing ballots.
What?! printing ballots is the responsibility of the party? Really? Yes in France it is. The political party must finance the printing of the ballots that will be displayed on the very long tables (to accommodate 34 piles of ballots) on election day. In fact because of this pricey requirement (estimated to be 300,000€) you may not actually find 34 ballots on the tables. Ecology Emergency is printing some, but not enough for every voter, which would be 45.5 million, and other parties such as the pan-European Pirates, the Esperanto party and the Yellow Vests party are asking voters to print their ballots at home from an online template and bring them to the polls. Ballot papers must be 105x148mm, white and printed on 70g offset paper. 70g paper is hard to find at office supply stores, so we must wonder if the vote counters will accept ballots on 80g paper or if they can even detect the slight difference in paper weight.
On the bright side, to resolve this French exception, a bill was presented at the end of March 2019 to the French parliament to eliminate the individual paper ballot and switch to a one sheet ballot (printed and financed by the government) where the voter will check off their choice. This is the norm in many other European countries already. It is much less expensive for the political parties, the government and the environment. What’s not to like? Perhaps the next thing to change will be the poster boards. Eliminating them will also save a lot of paper and expense. The boards were instituted along with universal suffrage and thus before radio, TV and internet become the main means of communication the boards were papered with the party platform not photos of the candidates or puppy dogs. Are they a thing of the past? Are they still effective? One more thing to take up in parliament.
PS: You think this is all complicated in France where we are setting a record with number of candidates in this election? Well Germany has 40 lists! To the polls citizens! Time to vote for what you believe in.
PS2: Election envelopes are financed by the government but manufactured by private shops. These envelopes have no glue to close them, a pointed flap, and are made out of colored recycled paper. They come in 16 colors which are varied at each election. For this European election 2019 we’ll be voting with blue envelopes. Each polling station puts out only the exact number of envelopes as voters on their list.
PS3: We often hear the word scrutin used during French elections. This word comes from Latin and means “to examine” and refers to placing votes in a box watched over by scrutateurs where they are anonymous.