Election 2017

Sunday morning. I shaved my face, donned a fresh black t-shirt and walked up to the Mairie to witness the climax of this most confounding and portentous election.

Charlie, the mayor of Maury, did a double take, smiled warmly, said “Ah, Ron”, and came to shake my hand. He introduced me to all the other poll workers, who nodded as they recognized “le photographe’, and said of course it would be fine for me to take photos as people voted. I shook hands all around the room and one woman said I had taken a beautiful picture of her father, Adrien. I remembered it, found it on my phone and showed it to her. “He died last year,” she said.

Charlie asked: “What’s going on in America, this Trump?” I gave my best French expression of disgust, a vehement “Beh!” Then said: “C’est pourquoi je suis ici.” “That’s why I’m here.” Everyone laughed and welcomed me back to town.

Voters select names to take in the booth.

There are stacks of cards for each of the candidates and I asked if voters had to take all of them into the booth. “No, no, minimum two.” So you present identification, take at least two cards and an envelope into the booth, put one in the envelope, throw the others away, have your name checked off against the roll of eligible voters and your voting card stamped, deposit the card in a clear plexi box as the official calls your name and adds: “à voté”. But I noticed some voters took no cards, apparently intending to deposit an empty envelope in protest against all the candidates.

I told Charlie I’ll return for the results and went home to lunch.

Charlie, the Mayor

The Count

Envelopes are collected into batches of 100 and placed in larger envelopes, then opened, passed to someone else who reads the name aloud, which is then hand-tallied by two other officials. When the envelope is finished the count is read aloud, agreed and recorded. The room is absolutely silent except for the reading of names and results. No groans, no expressions of dismay, no wringing of hands although everyone I had talked to was appalled at the thought of President Le Pen. I had a good chat with Charlie, a test for my French but we made it. He really didn’t think she could be elected but he was certainly aware of the anger and uncertainty here, and everywhere and understands the decline of the traditional party structure and how many fear globalization and, of course, the anti-immigration fear of the “other”. And the alternatives are not terribly attractive. Mélenchon is a demagogue from the left, Fillon, a dinosaur on the right, Macron is pretty but who knows what lurks behind the façade.

Maury gave Le Pen a victory by about 25 votes over Macron, Mélenchon third, Fillon fourth. It surprised me—this area is traditionally solid Socialist—but maybe it shouldn’t have. Like many small villages, Maury is suffering. There are many houses for sale as the older generation dies off, few services for those who remain, and no jobs for the young. People are angry, confused, certain traditional politicians have let them down, but unsure where to turn. But it’s worth noting that about 75% of the Maury electorate voted, about a dozen cast blank ballots. Democracy may be unsettled in France, but people still care enough to participate.

Elle a voté

Conventional wisdom says the French vote with their emotions in the first round, their brains in the second. We’ll see. I was watching Charlie during the count and saw him receive a text, smile, and raise a clenched fist. I’m guessing Macron is doing well nationally.

Late results before a dinner of leftover chicken and salad: it appears to be a Le Pen/Macron runoff with Macron, supported by the political establishment, the heavy favorite. Le Pen will no doubt run hard against the elites, charging them with abandoning hard working and struggling French citizens by allowing manufacturing jobs to disappear, then opening the public treasury for immigrants.

The count

Sound familiar?

Whither France?


©2017 Ron scherl

Election Day

Like just about everything else in Maury, elections are a family affair. People come to vote with dogs and kids, greet everyone in the room, bisous and handshakes all around and take a moment to chat about the weather.

Voting ©2012 Ron Scherl

I arrived around 10:30 in the morning and the Mayor and Jean Batlle were checking names on the voter rolls, Jean-Roger was accepting ballots and Pierrette was gathering signatures. I asked the mayor if it was alright to take photos and he said of course; then I promptly tripped on a step I didn’t see and fell against one of the booths, fearing that I was about to take the entire French democracy down with me.

I managed a sheepish “Excusez-moi” and Charley, who always has an expression of deep concern said: “No, no, are you alright.”

I was fine and the democratic process was still intact.

Marie-Laure ©2012 Ron Scherl

So here’s how it works: you show your voter card, pick up an envelope and cards with the candidates’ names – you must take both – and go into the booth where you place one card in the envelope and drop the other in a trash bin. Then you’re checked off the list, place the envelope in the slot of a plastic box and an official pushes a lever dropping the ballot into the box while you sign the register.

Voting ©2012 Ron Scherl

Now you kiss or shake hands with anyone who arrived after you, catch up on any local news you may have missed and go home to lunch. The morning was busy and Marie told me most people vote before lunch. Sensible people don’t let politics ruin a Sunday siesta.


The Count Begins ©2012 Ron Scherl

I returned around 5:30, and the last few voters straggle in to a chorus of ahhhs and in one case, applause. Pierrette, the president of the Cave Cooperative, takes her ballot. She likes to be the last voter. At 6:00 the polls close and the count begins after a shuffling of furniture. About 30 people have arrived to witness the count by the mayor and members of the municipal council and the room gets very quiet. The mayor opens the ballot box, all the envelopes are counted and the tally compared with the voting records, then they are divided into batches of 100, opened and counted. Null ballots which may result from an empty envelope, both candidate cards in one envelope or a vote cast for someone not on the ballot are tallied and set apart. The mayor counts out loud in groups of ten, while others record his count. All totals must agree. The votes are entered in a spreadsheet, reported to the regional government and then up the chain to Paris and posted on the door of City Hall.

Counting Ballots ©2012 Ron Scherl

It’s a very sober process. There’s never a hint of partisanship, not the slightest indication of any interest in the results, just the sense of doing an important job, doing it efficiently and accurately and going home when it’s done.

For the record:


Eligible voters:            702

Voting:                        574


Francois Hollande:      305

Nicolas Sarkozy:         239

Null ballots:                  30