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French election votes annulled as cast in church confession box

It was judged that the location ‘undermined the freedom’ of the vote in the tiny village. A former candidate also caused the same issue by publicly announcing that he was not voting

A confessional booth in a church

Holding a vote in a "place of worship was such as to undermine the freedom and sincerity of the vote", le Conseil said (Image for illustration only) Pic: Stefania Valvola / Shutterstock

Presidential election votes from a tiny village in northern France have been annulled after it emerged that they were cast in a confessional booth in a church.

Cizancourt, a 35-inhabitant commune in Somme, used the village church to host its presidential election voting, with the votes cast inside the confession box. This goes against voting rules.

France’s highest constitutional authority, le Conseil constitutionnel, has now said that “the conduct of the vote in this place of worship was such as to undermine the freedom and sincerity of the vote, and all the votes cast in this municipality should be annulled”.

Public declaration controversy

It comes as the votes of another voting station, in Lourdios-Ichère (Pyrénées-Atlantiques) were also annulled after former presidential candidate and commune mayor Jean Lassalle publicly declared his abstention at the station.

This is banned under voting law in France, leading to the annulment of the vote in his commune by le Conseil.

Mr Lassalle, well known in France for wearing a gilet jaune (yellow vest) to parliament, is accused of telling cameras on-site that he would “not vote for the first time in his life”. Le Conseil ruled that this amounted to "publicly staging his abstention" and said he had "taken the floor to express his refusal to participate in the election".

It added that this amounted to “the broadcasting of election propaganda messages on the eve and the day of the election", and said that Mr Lassalle’s attitude "undermined the respect and dignity of the electoral operations in which he participated as a candidate in the first round".

Mr Lassalle has written a letter to the Conseil constitutionnel, taking full responsibility for his actions and asking for “forgiveness”, but denying that he had announced his intentions to TV cameras. 

He said he had only been filmed by his son’s smartphone camera in the presence of two journalists without cameras, and that he alone had put the video online. 

He also said that no-one else was present at the voting station at the time of his declaration, except the staff, his son, and the two journalists, who he had invited along.

He called his actions “one of the most important of my civic life and of my life as an elected official”, but asked that the Conseil reverses the annulment of the town’s votes, “as this has been imposed for nothing”.

Mr Lassalle now risks a fine of €15,000 or one year's imprisonment, or both.

In his letter, he wrote: “I want to publicly respond to my actions and pay any eventual consequences.”

The final round of the presidential election took place on April 24 in France. 

The Conseil constitutionnel has now officially declared (as of April 27) incumbent Emmanuel Macron as the winner, with 58.55% of the vote, compared to 41.45% for opponent Marine Le Pen. 

Abstention rates were high, at 28.01%, while 6.36% of votes cast were either blank or ruined.

Mr Macron’s second term will officially begin on May 14.

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