Aux urnes, citoyens! ("To the ballot boxes, citizens!")
I just got back from the village multi-purpose hall (named, rather grandiosely, La Salle Émancipatrice — literally, "the liberating room," but probably more usefully "The Hall of Liberation" — but I digress). I cast both my vote and Mr Mo's vote (by procuration), and now it remains to be seen what the rest of France decides about Sarkozy v. Hollande.
My predictions and some observations below the fleur-de-Kos.
UPDATE: Hollande has won with an estimated 52% of the vote. Turnout is estimated to have been around 82% — slightly higher than the first round.
UPDATE no. 2: Well, whaddaya know, according to the official election results, Hollande beat Sarkozy in my village 162 votes to 142!! Turnout was 86%; abstentions were down a bit from the first round, but the number of protest votes went from 3 in the first round to 20 in the second round.
The participation in the first round of La Présidentielle two weeks ago was amazing. My little village of some roughly 350 registered voters (quite a number of whom traveled afar from their current homes to vote in their home town — not a requirement, but a tradition for many) saw a turnout of 84% — nearly 5% higher than the national turnout rate. (I regret to say, however, that Marine Le Pen of the rabid right-wing Front National came in first in my village at ~28%, with Hollande at 26% and Sarkozy trailing at just under 23%.)
Today, however, the hall was empty. I had the booth(s) to myself. In fairness, I voted a little later in the morning than the last time, so it's perhaps a bit early to draw any firm conclusions. Nevertheless, particularly given Marine Le Pen's refusal to endorse either candidate, and her announced intention to turn in a blank ballot, I anticipate a significantly higher abstention rate than last time… and a significantly higher number of blank ballots cast.
—I should explain here that France's voting system is extremely straightforward: a voter hands her voter card to the poll inspectors, after which she is given a small envelope. She can then go to a table to pick up the pre-printed "bulletin" (ballot) with the name of the candidate for whom she wishes to vote, or she can do as I did — I brought along the desired bulletin slip that I received in the official election packet. Other people pick up a slip for each candidate so as not to be too obvious about their choice. The voter then retires to a voting booth. Having folded the ballot and put it into the official envelope, the voter deposits the envelope into a clear plastic locked box (the urne), the voter card is date-stamped, and the voter signs next to her name on the registered voter list, and then is handed back the voter card.
Mr Mo was unable to come to France for the elections, so he went to the French embassy in Berlin and signed a procuration form which I hand-delivered to the village mayor's office (as it was too late to have it sent directly via diplomatic pouch). This gave me the right to vote in his stead. (It is possible to vote at a French embassy if one is officially residing outside of France; this will probably be our case in times to come.) So after I was done casting my ballot, I went through the same procedure "for and in behalf of" Mr Mo: submitted his voter card, got the envelope, tucked in the ballot in the privacy of the voting booth, put it in the urne, signed next to his name, and got his date-stamped voter card back.
When the polls close at 20h00 tonight (8 p.m.), the election inspectors will open the locked urne and open each ballot one by one, double-checking that each envelope contained only one or zero ballots, and verifying that the numbers of votes cast for each candidate and the empty envelopes (protest votes) add up to the number of voters' signatures. The tally is then certified by the mayor and the election officials and reported to the departmental election board and so on up the line.
This is a very simple and nearly fool-proof system, and while fraud is possible, the level of collusion required makes it pretty unlikely. A representative of each party is present to ensure honesty. (There were a lot of inspectors in the first round; only two plus the village mayor this time around.) I expect things are a little more complicated in larger communities, but all precincts hew to the same standards of inspection and accounting.
Assuming the polls hold true, once the votes are all counted (including those from overseas), we will be seeing the last of "l'Omniprésident" Sarkozy for a while. And indeed, given the crumpled or torn-up unused ballots for Sarkozy that I found in the booth and in the nearby trash can, "Sarko" doesn't have many fans here — and probably cannot count at all on former Le Pen voters' support.
Unlike the U.S. where is a several months-long gap between the election and the inauguration, Mr. Hollande will be sworn in no later than May 16th. While I will be happy to see Mr. Hollande sworn in (count this as an understatement), I confess that I am very concerned about the upcoming legislative elections on June 10th and 17th. The Front National looks likely to pick up a worrisome number of seats in the Assemblée Générale, and if the coalition on the left does not have a majority, Hollande will be saddled with a prime minister from the opposition — a state of affairs that can be just about as dysfunctional as what President Obama has to endure with the obdurate, party-above-America Republicans.
Here's hoping for a working majority on the left to help France back away from Mr Sarkozy's increasingly right-wing policies… and to help France temper the EU's current wrong-headed policy of inflicting economy-killing austerity on its member nations.
7:13 AM PT: Rec list? Whoa. Merci beaucoup! For those who can read French, take a look at the (pdf) transcript of the nearly 3-hour-long, freewheeling May 2nd debate between Hollande and Sarkozy. Now that's what I call a debate. Would that we could have such a debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney!
11:03 AM PT: …And now that the polls have closed Le Monde and all the other French newspapers have called the election for Hollande.
Vive la France ! Vive la République !