France’s recent presidential and legislative elections provide some interesting insights to overseas voting practices. Despite over 1 million registered French overseas voters compared with 30,000 for their British counterparts, only some 3600 French citizens voted by post (the only option for British expats unless they have a proxy vote). There is a case for Parliament and the Electoral Commission to address improving the registration and voting procedures for British overseas voters, as well as removing the 15 year qualifying period.
Despite the belief that overseas citizens tend to be politically conservative, 8 out of France’s total of 11 overseas constituencies voted for the Left and only 3 for the Right.
As the overseas electorate constituencies spread across national boundaries, much electioneering was carried out via e-mail lists provided by French Consulates, as well as through webcasts and social-media sites.
Of the 1,067, 225 electors registered, turnout in both rounds of the legislative elections was 21%, of which:
– 45% voted in voting booths provided by local French Embassies/Consulates,
– 2% were postal votes and
– 53 % were cast via the Internet.
This looks impressive compared with the Uk’s 30,000 registered overseas voters but not if compared with the 2% French postal vote count of some 3612, and which is the only means of voting for British overseas citizens unless they can establish a proxy.
Indeed, the 20% turnout rate among French overseas voters is referred to in the above article as being “ridiculously weak”! One problem identified is a structural one of too few local voting points, posing the question of what to do if the nearest one is 200 kms away?
Therefore, the French authorities provided for the first time the option of voting via the Internet, which also encouraged younger voters and those more likely to vote for the Left. However, overall turnout was still around half compared with the 42% who participated in the presidential elections a month before.