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France Signals It May Try Out Early Electronic Voting

FILE - A man casts his ballot in parliamentary elections at a polling station in Marseille, southern France, June 18, 2017.

Ahead of France’s 2022 presidential election, the government says it will seek to modify electoral laws to allow early voting on electronic machines. But the proposal is meeting backlash from the opposition.

With the topic looming large among lawmakers, political parties in the Senate were clashing this week over the latest draft amendment by the government to modify electoral laws.

The government says it wants to allow early voting on electronic machines up to five days before Election Day to increase voter participation.

The political opposition says there’s no need to change the law on such short notice.

Stephane Le Rudulier, a conservative senator with the Republican Party, says he opposes the possibility of voters casting their ballots before Election Day because he thinks that voters could miss important updates or breaking news that might change their vote and therefore voters would not be equals. And that, he thinks, would deny legitimacy to any elected candidates.

In a Thursday night vote, the proposal was massively rejected by 321 senators. Only 23 senators loyal to President Emmanuel Macron’s party voted in favor.

But that does not mean that the idea of early voting is not popular among French politicians.

Patrick Kanner, a Socialist Party senator, describes abstention as a bad poison for any democracy that favors populism and far right movements. He says he supports any initiative to improve voter participation, and sees regular voting, early voting and voting by mail like in the United States as modern tools in the electoral process.

In the era of COVID-19, with sanitary measures and social distancing, the debate is open in France to adapt electoral laws to avoid long crowds at polling stations. However, the latest U.S. election and its failure to get fast results in some states set a bad example and hurt public opinion.

Jean-Claude Beaujour, a lawyer and vice-president of the France-Ameriques association, says the French want to keep the process simple.

“French voters are always concerned with limiting any risk of fraud. There is always the question of the transit of paper ballot. The recent American debate on election fraud has strengthened the feeling the French have about having the most simple and reliable electoral mechanism,” said Beaujour.

The French government could revisit its plan to modify the electoral law later this year.