The Telegraph
Monday , April 15 , 2013
Since 1st March, 1999

How I voted in France

I felt the gaze of several people on me as I held the sealed blue envelope and went towards the ballot box.

“Arnab! Turn around,” Caroline called from behind me. I stopped and looked back.

Last year, I was in France at a time the country was gearing up for the final round of its presidential elections. Being a journalist, it was pretty exciting, with everyone discussing the polls and newspapers such as Le Monde carrying huge pictures of both the incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy and his challenger Francois Hollande.

What I gathered from speaking to the French people was that they didn’t expect a lot from either of the candidates. Sarkozy had failed to keep his promises and Hollande didn’t really have much on his agenda other than slamming Sarkozy and calling for “change”. But the balance seemed to be tilting towards Hollande.

The evening I arrived in France, there was a televised debate between the two candidates (which I did not watch) and the next morning all the newspapers carried huge pictures of both men gesturing threateningly at each other, while the moderator seemed to be trying to calm them.

A voter slides an envelope into the ballot box

Around this time, leaflets from both candidates reached prospective voters. Sarkozy’s election campaign was called “La Forte France”, which is “Strong France” in English. Hollande didn’t have campaign line as such.

After a couple of days in Paris, I took a train to Upper Normandy, or Haute-Normandie, as the local people call it, to see the beautiful French countryside. I stayed at a friend’s at Cany-Barville, a little town not far from the English Channel. (“Wonder why they don’t call it the French Channel,” my friend Caroline said.)

In that particular area, Sarkozy had won in the first phase of the elections and the final voting was scheduled to take place in a couple of days. Two days later, I was still at Cany Barville and Caroline took me to the voting station.

A newspaper stand in Paris ahead of the May 6, 2012, election

It was taking place where the mayor’s office was and I was surprised when no one stopped me to ask for an ID as I entered the hall where people were voting.

The process was really simple. People lined up and displayed their IDs and the polling officers gave them an envelope and two pieces of paper with Sarkozy written on one and Hollande on the other. The voters then went inside a small booth, and put the paper with the name of the person they wanted to vote for in the envelope and sealed it. They threw the other one into a bin inside the booth. Then they came out and put the sealed envelope inside a see-through ballot box.

Such leaflets from both candidates reached prospective voters ahead of the D-Day

When Caroline came out the booth, she did not immediately put the envelope in the box. Instead, she said something to the woman keeping a tab on the voters and the latter nodded.

“Hey Arnab! Come here and you can put the vote in the box for me,” Caroline said.

What! They would actually let me do that? In India, they don’t even let anyone other than voters enter the room!

I went forward with a big smile, took the blue envelope from her and headed towards the ballot box.

I was about the put it in, when she called.

“Arnab! Turn around!”

I turned to see she was holding a camera. She clicked just before I slid the ballot into the box.

Pictures by Arnab Nandy