With this year’s presidential election in France I have stumbled on an interesting feature of the french electoral system, to vote by granting someone else power of attorney. This way of voting was introduced in 1975 and to vote by mail was abolished at the same time. At first, it is striking to me that this electoral possibility lifts the secret of your vote. By a matter of fact I knew through a friend how someone else is going to vote in the first round as that person was her trustee. I thought secret voting is a requirement in all countries, but it seems that not every electoral framework obligatory demands this.
My interest of this aspect of the electoral procedure led me to look more into this. As it turned out, the French can still vote by mail, but only in the legislative elections, not in the presidential elections. They have switched to this possibility for people who cannot participate themselves in an election due to large number of frauds and other irregularities. After the option to vote by mail was abolished, the french lawmakers have gradually reintroduced this option recently, in particular for Frenchs living abroad. Arthur Charpentier, Baptiste Coulmond and Joël Gombin show a correlation between the use of vote by an agent correlates with socioeconomic characteristics of the voter.
In the 2012 presidential elections 1,5 millions of Frenchs used this option to vote. These votes accounted only for 5,4 % of the votes in the second round, but in a close race they can make the difference of whom becomes the next president. Charpenteir, Coulmond and Gombin also point to surprisingly high rates of vote by an agent on the island Corsica. The possibility of fraud had been less an issue with this way of voting, but the increasing number of voters who use this option is changing this. Surely, today more than ever people everywhere, not only in France, move around a lot which makes them indisposed to personally go to a ballot. Whatever new options for the act of voting in absence we might be able to come up with, the security of the act should not be jeopardized.