In a letter addressed to the French Foreign Affairs and Interior ministers, a U.S. representative for the French community abroad condemned the “dramatic” voting conditions for the first round of the French presidential elections.
Frenchman Damien Regnard has been a New Orleans resident since 1996, and was elected to be a delegate of the Assemblée des Français de l’étranger in 2009. Following the first round of voting, he reported “more than three hours of queuing” at the polling stations in Toronto and Montreal, a “tense situation” in Vancouver, and a large number of proxy votes refused in American and Canadian polling stations. “Many people were unable to vote, and were forced to leave,” he says.
In an attempt to “fluidify” the second round of voting and the upcoming legislative elections, the delegate has called on the 15 French consulates in the United States and Canada to offer more polling stations, recruit more volunteers and develop the electronic voting system.
The French consulate in Toronto apologized for the “confusion,” and promised to up the number of staff and reinforce security checks for the second round of voting, set to take place on Saturday, May 6. The French Foreign Affairs and Interior ministers declined to comment.
“The organization of the polling stations did not reflect the increase in the French population in North America,” says Damien Regnard, pointing that “at least five polling stations” have been removed in the United States since the 2012 presidential election. “We urgently need a system that gives all French people a voice.”
The letter Damien Regnard addressed to the French Foreign Affairs and Interior ministers:
New Orleans, the United States, April 22, 2017
Dear Mr. Prime Minister,
Dear Mr. Minister,
I am writing to you today to inform you of the highly concerning events during the first round of voting for the French presidential elections in North America. I have been an elected delegate of the Assemblée des Français de l’étranger since 2009, and I have never witnessed such a situation!
Circumstances were clearly most dramatic in Montreal, with voters forced to wait for more than three hours in the rain and in temperatures of just 41°F. This is unacceptable. I was told that certain elderly people were forced to return home before voting due to the weather conditions, while other people with disabilities and families with young children were obliged to wait outside for hours.
I also received reports from other cities in our jurisdiction in North America, of people often having to wait for more than an hour.
I would also like to point out that in the current climate of insecurity, these “French gatherings” are a threat to people’s safety, despite all the support provided by local authorities. The consulate in New York even received a bomb threat, which led to the temporary closure of the polling station.
Aside from the long distances between polling stations (several hours by car in many cases), which often forced voters to stay at home, it seems evident that our consular networks, while devoted and engaged, lack the means to cope with this influx of people.
It is inadmissible that these conditions made it difficult for a number of our fellow citizens to exercise their right to vote, to the point that some of them even gave up before voting. French people living abroad are often accused of a lack of participation in various elections. I believe the reason in this case is quite obvious: the inadequate means made available clearly detracted them from their right to vote. If that were not enough, several polling stations in our jurisdiction were even removed.
In conclusion, I ask you to take all necessary actions (new polling stations, improved distribution across the territory, more staff for the consulates, a recruitment drive for volunteers, etc.) so that French citizens abroad are able to exercise their right to vote in the best conditions for the second round of the presidential elections.
These issues are also relevant to the legislative elections in June, for which you have removed the right to vote online. Given the circumstances, I hope that the actions taken will reflect the gravity of what is at stake.
I look forward to hearing from you, and I hope to see an improvement in the situation.
Elected Delegate of the Assemblée des Français de l’étranger
United States Jurisdiction