On the Sunday between the two rounds of voting for the French presidential election, a curious thing happened in North-West London. Two Frenchmen rang the doorbell of my parents’ house and asked to speak to my mother (who is French). They wanted to know if she would be supporting Nicolas Sarkozy next Sunday, and if she had any doubts, would she like a leaflet outlining the President’s agenda for his second term. Naturally, not a word of English was spoken.
As it happens, I have never been canvassed in France for a French presidential, or any other kind of election. I was under the impression it was not done the same way as in the UK (privacy laws and so forth). Yet here were a couple of party activists, one white, the other of likely South-East Asian origin, wandering around London looking for swing voters. With about 400,000 votes cast by French citizens in the first round outside France (a turnout of nearly 40% of the registered overseas electorate), I can see why this get out the vote operation [GOTV] would exist. But even in London, where most of the UK’s half million French people live, it is not a case of calling door to door.
Before recent changes to French election law which create constituencies outside French territories that are represented in the National Assembly, presidential elections in the Fifth Republic (since 1962) were already a worldwide affair. Citizens in such French territories of Wallis and Futuna, Tahiti and Mayotte would cast votes at polling stations in Mata’utu, Papeete and Mamoudzou respectively. Unlike American elections, these are organised so that people in one territory do not get to see the results in others (or worse, a biased media’s reporting of a bad exit poll’s forecast, as happens quite often in the case of the US states of Georgia and Florida) before deciding if it is worth bothering to pop down to the polling station. Proof of identity is required to register (four months in advance), making vote rigging harder than in, say, any of the US states Barack Obama will win in November this year. It is also needed to collect the ballot paper (no rigging the machines either, how could Chicago cope?). No one seems to think this is racist in France, though there was a complaint that not enough publicity was given last December to the registration deadline and that this would hit turnout (it did not, in the event).
What is new is the scale of French citizens living outside the government’s jurisdiction but able to claim voting rights. London has more French voters than any French city other than Paris, Marseille, Lyon and Toulouse. Most do not register to vote in the UK, but many are also registered in France and prefer to have their ballots counted in their place of origin.
In June, the (French) people of London will elect a member of parliament to sit in the National Assembly in Paris. He or she will, when referring to “my constituency” be talking about Northern Europe, but the main concentration will be the inhabitants of what is sometimes called “Paris-on-Thames”.
It makes the regulations of the UK’s Electoral Commission look even more daft than before. This bureaucratic monster was established to restrict the GOTV operations of UK political parties and favours the British Labour Party’s arrangements [it is illegal for a Northern Ireland branch to have equal rights with a mainland one and separate accounts have to filed].
On a positive note, this will drive xenophobes nuts. I wonder how it would go down if the Mexican Parliament had representatives from “Nuevo México” “Misisipi” or “Pensilvania” who could only be elected by Mexican nationals?
It could get interesting if large numbers of people living in one-party states get to vote in foreign elections for the candidates of their choice. Stopping foreign media coverage of a foreign election campaign in China or Cuba is something I can see giving some headaches to the aparatchiks.