Against abstention, which we have not tried

“Civic disaster” for Marine Le Pen, “Schism between the political class and the French” for Yannick Jadot… On Sunday June 20, politicians did not have strong enough words to comment on the abstention rate in the first round of regional and departmental elections: 66.74%, a record under the Ve Republic, excluding referendum. The circumstantial explanations that had already prevailed in municipal governments a year ago – deconfinement, early summer – are no longer sufficient. While waiting for the second round for which the mobilization does not look better, a recurring debate has reopened: that on the reform of the methods of the ballot, supposed to improve the participation. “A vote, a ballot box, a voting booth, a Sunday, that’s not enough”, summarizes Roland Lescure, deputy and spokesperson for La République en Marche. The delegate general of the presidential party, Stanislas Guérini, calls for the implementation of Internet voting during the next five-year term. While the leader of La France rebellious, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, intends to table a bill establishing the recognition of the blank vote as well as a minimum participation threshold below which an election would be invalidated.

When it comes to modifying the rules of the electoral game, there are many avenues, often inspired by foreign examples. Electronic voting, for example, is common in Estonia. It was also implemented in early June for the French consular elections. “The only argument against electronic voting is that of control, and I don’t believe it. Or, we have the same problem with proxies! “, pleads Roland Lescure. Member of the French in North America, he is also a supporter of early voting, practiced in the United States as in Germany. “In the last US presidential election (marked by a record turnout), two out of three voters voted in advance”, he insists.

The regrouping of elections is also an idea regularly mentioned. In March 2021, the deputy LREM Yaël Braun-Pivet, president of the law commission, proposed to vote at the same time for the presidential and legislative elections. One way, according to her, to fight against abstention from the legislative elections, which attracts less and less voters: 56.83% of abstention in the second round in 2017, a record.

These hypotheses are also encouraged by part of the research world. “Our procedures are old, they were designed at a time when life was different, when people, in particular, were less mobile, notes political scientist Céline Braconnier, director of Sciences Po Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Today, I do not see why we should continue to impose to vote in a fixed place ”, considers this specialist in electoral participation.

Ideas abound, and yet nothing happens. In November 2020, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin rejected postal voting and electronic voting, calling them “False good idea”, because of the risk of fraud. The state in fact retains the trauma of postal voting fraud of the 1960s and 1970s, which led to its abandonment in 1975. But the reasons are also political. “In France, we debate these subjects constantly, but for the government, it is never a priority. The modalities of the vote, like the electoral division, are always relegated for fear of being accused of “tampering” ”, explains Thomas Ehrhard, political scientist at the University of Paris 2 Panthéon-Assas. “From Monday, you will see that elected officials will be keen to make people forget the circumstances of their election, to avoid any illegal trial, Celine Braconnier forecast. It’s complicated to move the lines, because by changing the rules, we also risk modifying our own exercise of power. And yet, it’s gonna have to be done, at the risk of seeing citizens desert the ballot boxes for all the elections. ” And that a growing part of society is questioning the democratic model.

But the potential effectiveness of these changes is not unanimous. “Modernizing our voting system is important, but it does not seem essential, believes Bertrand Pancher, deputy (Freedoms and territories) of the Meuse and president of the think tank Décider ensemble, specialist in questions of participatory democracy. Abstention is consubstantial with the functioning of our local authorities, which our fellow citizens do not understand. We will not get out of this without a shock of decentralization and consultation. “

He describes France as “The least decentralized country in the world, where parliament has the least power. We never consult the population, or without taking it into account. How do you want our fellow citizens to vote? “ Foreign examples should also be qualified. “In the United States, as in France, the presidential election is the tree that hides the forest, emphasizes Thomas Ehrhard. It has been years since the “midterms” (legislative elections of mid-term) have 40% of participation. France is not a special case. ” For him, a change in voting methods would only have a marginal effect. “Democracy is not just the ballot box. It is the public space that sets the tone for institutional democracy. Now, what do we see in the public space? Disaggregation of the social bond, individualism, growing difficulty in dialogue… To consider that the participation in the elections would be an autonomous phenomenon on which one can act in a scientific way is a mistake. Abstention is only one symptom of a larger societal problem. “

“Of course, we will not solve the problem of political disenchantment only by technical measures, admits Céline Braconnier. But this would remove certain obstacles, which combine with the other factors of abstention. The more people are away from the polls, the easier it is to make the vote ”, continues the one which is also in favor of automatic registration on the electoral rolls.

While there is no quick fix, a change in the electoral rules would nevertheless send a symbolic message of renewal. “Today, this conservatism gives the image of a representative regime completely folded in on itself”, deplores Romain Rambaud, recalling that “France is the only country which has postponed elections in 2021”. He also advocates more regular consultations with the French.

Will the presidential campaign allow France to move forward on this subject which has been blocked for years? Roland Lescure is convinced of this. “The presidential candidates cannot fail to take a stand on the revitalization of our democratic model. It’s the perfect year! “


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