Monday, 7 May 2007

Delousing the French Presidential election

During the first round, I was asked to participate in what I thought was the dépliment, a word which was totally logical to me but also totally my invention. Plier means to fold so dépliment was so obviously the right word for me meaning unfolding ie unfolding the ballots in the envelopes. The word is actually dépouillement, meaning counting ballots, but according to my brother in law, it has something to do with delousing since pou means louse.

So, yesterday morning I said I would "delouse" the ballots when the polling station closed. I wanted to do my civic duty but I was also curious to see how it works since the system is so very different from the US (not that I've ever counted votes in the US or anything...)

At 5:45 I showed up at my polling station. There were about 20 of us waiting for the station to close. At 6:00, a couple last minute voters rushed in and the president of the voting office locked the doors. There was a short explanation of what we were supposed to do with lots of words I didn't understand. How to count, how to call the number, what to do with nul (invalid) votes. I didn't understand much...

We sat around for about 30 minutes while the election officials first counted the number of signatures in the voting register and compared the number with the counter on the voting urne. After 5 recounts, there was still a difference of 10 so the voting official said we should start counting the envelope de centaine so called because each envelope contains 100 ballots. The voting officials emptied the urne onto the table and counted out piles of 10. Ten piles of 10 ballots were then put into the envelope de centaine and closed shut and signed by the voting officials. Each envelope was marked 1st hundred, 2nd hundred, etc...

We, the strutateur (ballot counters), were at 4 tables of 4 people. Two people did the pointage (literally pointing) and two people did the reading of the ballots. The pointeur were each given a list to note the number of votes per candidate per batch of 10.

When we were given the first envelope with 100 votes, we had to recount and make sure all 4 people at the table agreed that there were really 100 votes inside. My partners were a little thrown off when they realized I was counting in English but I explained to them that I was "newly French."

I was the official ballot opener so I meticulously opened each envelope and pulled out and unfolded the ballot, making sure there was only one, that it wasn't destroyed, torn and was valid. Once I'd seen the name, I passed it to my neighbor who then called out the candidate's name. The pointeur marked the vote down. This system is such that the most possible number of people can see the ballot which avoids any contention (disagreement) as we were told.

There were of course many nul ballots. When we came across one of these, we called the president over. She looked at the ballot, signed it and then the 4 of us also signed it. These ballots were to be sent to the Prefecture for verification. One of our ballots had lip marks on it. And I was a bit surprised when I pulled a picture of Spiderman out of an envelope. Even the president laughed at that one.

Once we'd opened all 100 ballots, the pointeur counted and compared their numbers while my neighbor and I recounted the paper ballots. After we'd all agreed and signed the official count, the official announcer announced the results per 100 ballots. These results were written up on a huge sheet of paper taped to the wall.

By 7:15, we'd finished counting and I had to get home to feed Suzanne. I found Jerome and Suzanne in front of the TV, looking at preliminary polls from Belgium (since no polls or preliminary results are legal in France until 8pm). At 8 pm, the TV announced Sarkozy's win.

What I don't get is the timing: if the polls close at 6pm and the official counting isn't done til about 7:30pm and the polls in Paris close at 8pm, how can the results possibly be announced at 8pm? There's something wrong here. Or maybe there is some sort of spatial-temporal wormhole in France that opens on the eve of the presidential elections. Maybe that's where all the louse go.


Amy H said...

I'm so impressed that you actually participated in the election! Respect!

And I asked my hubby the same thing - how can they know who won so early. I think they base it on exit polls. That's what he thought, at least. If there's a really narrow margin, they don't announce a winner and continue to count all of the votes, but with the margin they had last night, it was a safe enough call to say that Sarko won.

wcs said...

Very cool. I wondered how the counting was done and who actually did it. Thanks !

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