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‘As a foreigner I cannot vote but a French person is voting for me’

Olga has lived in France for 30 years but without French citizenship they are unable to  vote – but via a special platform, they have asked someone else to vote on their behalf

Olga and a hand voting

Olga, 33, is voting in the French presidential election as a foreigner for the second time, using the platform Alter-votants Pic: Provided by interviewee and Hibrida / Shutterstock

Olga, 33, is originally from Russia but moved to France at the age of three. They do not have French nationality, but today (April 10) they will “vote” for the second time in a French presidential election.

They and other foreign nationals living in France are able to do this through a platform called Alter-votants, which pairs foreign residents who want to vote with French citizens who wish to abstain from voting. The French volunteers can sign up to offer their vote to a foreigner. 

The platform was launched in 2016 and helped 1,000 foreigners, including Olga, vote in the 2017 presidential election. 

Read more about the platform here: French site pairs foreigners who want to vote with election abstainers

Olga has, through the platform, been paired this year with Étienne, an 18-year-old university student from Montpellier.

We spoke to both of them to find out about their motivations to use Alter-votants, and their thoughts on foreigners having the right to vote in France. 

Olga, journalist and community manager

“I am very involved in politics in France.

“I am an activist in feminist and LGBT issues, and fight against fat phobia. I also work for an HIV-related NGO. 

“It is frustrating for me not to be able to do anything about this election, especially in this very intense political climate, with far-right ideas being so visible everywhere.

“This experience of using Alter-votants is very different from the first time. 

“Back in 2017 I was paired with someone who was very involved in politics but more in an anarchist way. She didn’t want to vote but if she had she would have voted the same as me, for Philippe Poutou (Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste). 

“This time I am paired with a young man, who is 18. It will be his first opportunity to vote but he is very indecisive and he feels like it is better to give his vote to someone who is more clear about everything that is going on. 

“I don’t want to sound patronising, but his decision does feel mature to me. 

“I told him that. When I was 18, I wasn’t there at all, so it’s interesting. 

“There’s more to politics in France than the election, but it still feels like an important part. With far-right ideas being more visible and accepted, it feels more urgent to use the vote specifically to participate in political life. 

“As for whether I feel represented in France, I think some candidates can and do, but they are very invisible in the media. 

“Candidates like Poutou, or earlier in the election campaign there was also Anasse Kazib (who did not get 500 signatures from elected officials so could not become an official candidate). 

Read more: France’s 2022 presidential election hopefuls race to find 500 backers

“As these candidates are hardly in the media, I don’t feel represented in France.

“I have asked Étienne to vote for Jean-Luc Mélenchon for me. I do not like the idea of tactical voting, but keeping the far-right out feels even more urgent than it did five years ago. 

“I may ask Étienne to vote for me in the second round, but it depends who makes it through. 

“Foreigners should have the right to vote in France. I think it is right. 

“How can it be that people who live in France, work for the State, pay their taxes, participate in the country and are affected by the decisions of the country’s leaders have less of a right to vote than French people who live abroad?

“Étienne offering his vote to me is touching. I feel honoured that he could technically do it for himself as he has his own ideas, but he has chosen to give it to someone else who has clearer ideas. I think it is moving.”

Étienne, student

“I was really hesitating between the presidential candidates, between Éric Zemmour, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and Philippe Poutou. 

“I had different feelings about their policies and what I liked in each of their programmes, so I prefer to give my vote to someone who is really sure of who they want to vote for. 

“I have committed to giving my vote to someone else, so no matter who that person tells me to vote for, whether it is Macron, Pécresse, Le Pen…I will do it.

“Olga explained her situation and why she wants to vote for Mélenchon. At the beginning I had some doubts…but a vote is personal and I have committed to doing it. 

“I understand why she wants to vote for Mélenchon, it is similar to my own views. 

“Should foreigners living in France have the right to vote? It depends. If the person takes an interest in politics, yes, why not? If the person has been living in France for a while then they should have the right to vote [in France]. 

“But for someone who has just arrived, or someone who has, just as a silly example, only been in France for one month, then no. 

“Olga and I don’t have any plans to meet up. I chose to do this exchange to have a conversation with someone different, with someone who is not necessarily French.”

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