I Can Vote!


Gov­ern­ment of Canada Sign

On March 4th, I went to accom­plish my duty as a new Cana­dian cit­i­zen: I voted for the first time in Canada, in the provin­cial bylec­tion in Ottawa West-Nepean.I drove to the polling sta­tion slightly hon­ored I could now vote. I know, I’m weird.

I wasn’t on the vot­ers list (prob­a­bly because I became a cit­i­zen not long ago) but that was taken cared of in a mat­ter of min­utes. I only had to show a piece of I.D, a proof of my address and fill up a form. I was then given a bal­lot. It had the name of all the four can­di­dates for this elec­tion, as well as their polit­i­cal affil­i­a­tion. I went behind the vot­ing screen and marked in one of the cir­cles to make my choice. In the bal­lot box… and done!

By com­par­i­son, vot­ing in France is more cer­e­mo­ni­ous. First, you can’t miss upcom­ing elec­tions: cam­paigns are national events and they can last for months. Sec­ond, French are really into pol­i­tics and there is a strong empha­sis on the fact that vot­ing is both a civic right and a duty.

I received my carte d’électeur when I turned 18 and I couldn’t wait to use it. I got my first chance dur­ing the infa­mous pres­i­den­tial elec­tions of April 21st, 2002.

In France, elec­tions are always held on a Sun­day: nobody works so there is no excuse to skip the duty. Vot­ing is quite a cer­e­mo­nial: first, the voter picks up the bul­letins de vote at the entrance of the vot­ing office. Each party (and there are over ten of them!) is rep­re­sented by a vot­ing paper. You must pick at least two to keep your bal­lot secret. Then, you enter an iso­la­tion booth and you put the appro­pri­ate bul­letin in the envelop. You may not write any­thing on it, oth­er­wise it is void. Three peo­ple attend the bal­lot box: one check your ID and your voter reg­is­tra­tion card, another one open the bal­lot box and the third one have you sign the voter’s list and stamp your reg­is­tra­tion card. It is cus­tom to say a loud “a voté” (“your bal­lot has been cast”) when you put your bal­lot in the box to show you have accom­plished your civic duty.

There are a lot of par­ties but only two really have a chance to get elected to major posi­tions: the Union pour un move­ment pop­u­laire (right-wing) and the Social­ist Party (left-wing). Pres­i­den­tial elec­tions have two rounds: a first round and a runoff. Peo­ple tra­di­tion­ally vote for the party they like best dur­ing the first round and every­body expect the sec­ond bal­lot to be between the two biggest par­ties. So you can vote for the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Com­mu­nist League (!) or any other minor party for the first bal­lot and then for a main­stream party in the runoff.

By law, vot­ing offices close at 8pm and no elec­toral pub­li­ca­tion and broad­casts can be made before that time. At 8pm on the dot, the results are broad­cast live on all major chan­nels. Like I said, it’s usu­ally between the Social­ist Party and the UMP, so no big deal.

Except this time, things didn’t go as planned.

Unex­pect­edly, the Social­ist Party had been voted off. The runner-off was the infa­mous Jean-Marie Le Pen, a far-right wing can­di­date. Le Pen had been in pol­i­tics for 40 years but he rarely got more than 10%. His views on immi­gra­tion, abor­tion, same-sex mar­riage, Europe, not to men­tion his Holo­caust denial and his alleged use of tor­ture dur­ing the Alger­ian war made him a sick choice for president.

At 8:05pm, France was in shock. Not just left-wing vot­ers, every­one. Spon­ta­neous street protests began in the night from the 21st of April to the 22nd. I was there, along with over a mil­lions of French cit­i­zens who felt some­thing had gone hor­ri­bly wrong.

Between vot­ing for a fas­cist (Le Pen) and vot­ing for a pres­i­dent nobody really wanted any­more (Jacques Chirac), the choice was easy. Yet, it was a painful one. Chirac was sus­pect in a cor­rup­tion scan­dal, but Le Pen was accused of racism and anti­semitism. And one of them was going to be Pres­i­dent. Sick at heart, the Social­ist Prime Min­is­ter at the time called all left-wing vot­ers to vote  for Chirac to defeat the fas­cist: “Vote for the Crook, not the Fas­cist”, was the motto. Even­tu­ally, dur­ing the sec­ond round of the elec­tion, Chirac defeated Le Pen by a land­slide.

So yeah, Cana­dian pol­i­tics are much less dra­matic. There are not big far-left or far-right par­ties and peo­ple seem quite con­tent, no mat­ter who wins, as long as it’s fair. Nonethe­less, the 2002 French Pres­i­den­tial elec­tion taught me some­thing. Vot­ing mat­ters. Because oth­er­wise, one day, there is always a chance to end up with the bad guy. It hap­pened before in Europe and it could hap­pen here. So I’ll keep on tak­ing my civic duty and right seri­ously.


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. Con­grats on get­ting the right to vote in Canada! That’s very excit­ing. Per­son­ally, I love vot­ing. Makes me feel proud to live in a soci­ety that orga­nizes such an awe­some event and that I have the right to par­tic­i­pate in it and have my voice heard. Sounds cheesy, I know…but it’s true :-)

  2. Such a cool feel­ing yeah? I just got my Swedish cit­i­zen­ship (i’m amer­i­can) so I finally get a say!

    (cool blog btw! from a future prospec­tive Cana­dian resident) :)

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