Selfies, dogs, talking: what are rules inside French polling stations?

Elections always happen on Sundays in France unlike the UK or US

sign to French polling station with inset logo of parliamentary elections 2024
The rules state that many things can be tolerated as long as people do not cause a disturbance or inconvenience and respect the secrecy of the poll
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Over 49 million French nationals are called to vote in the second and decisive round of France’s parliamentary elections today (July 7) - we look at some of the rules of what is and is not allowed in voting stations.

Read more: Unprecedented voter turnout in France's second round of legislative elections 

Secrecy of the vote is paramount

The rules state that many things can be tolerated as long as people do not cause a disturbance nor inconvenience to others and respect the secrecy of the poll.

There is no legal reason why people cannot bring dogs into vote with them, for example, so long as they do not cause a disturbance. 

There is also nothing to stop people taking a selfie as long as it preserves the secrecy of their choice of candidate and does not show how they are voting.

However, in 2014, the Ministry of the Interior stated that it is best to avoid posting photos.

"The mere fact of doing so, and moreover of publishing it, may generate suspicion about the voter's independence with regard to his or her vote. Indeed, nothing can guarantee that this publication has not been demanded, in particular by outside pressure". 

There is zero tolerance for discussions or debates inside the polling station and failure to comply with this can result in a fine of up to €15,000 or imprisonment of up to one year.

Voting is "a personal and secret act", according to the electoral code. 

Read more: France shocked by 50 violent attacks on election candidates and activists

Why do French elections take place on Sunday?

Most European countries vote on Sundays, unlike Britons (Thursdays) and Americans (Tuesdays).

In France, this rule is set by article L55 of the French Electoral Code. The logic is that Sunday is a non-working day for most people, enabling the majority to go to the polls without having to take time off work.

It is also a question of organisation since polling stations are set up in premises that are closed on Sundays (schools, town halls).

Read more: When will the result of Sunday’s French election be known?

Is there a dress code for voting? 

Shorts, jogging pants, flip-flops... The French electoral code does not stipulate any particular dress code - but not everything is allowed. It is forbidden to wear clothing with a political message, whether in support of a candidate or not. 

In 2014, a man from Toulouse wearing a Manif pour tous t-shirt was refused access to his polling station. He had to go home and change before he could enter the polling booth.

As for religious symbols, although they can cause controversy, they are not forbidden. 

Wearing a headscarf or a kippah is not a problem, as long as it does not impede the voter's identification by covering his or her face. 

Scarves, balaclavas or motorcycle helmets that cover the face are not acceptable.

Are children allowed to accompany parents?

In practice the presence of children accompanying their parents is tolerated on condition that they do not cause a disturbance

Must you take all the ballots into the booth with you?

The secrecy of the vote is paramount, and as such voters must take more than one ballot into the booth to prevent people from potentially guessing their voting intention.

If an individual decides to take only one ballot they can be expelled from the polling station by staff. 

Obstructing the secrecy of the vote can even lead to the cancellation of the electoral operations in the polling station.

Voting hours 

Most polling stations open at 8:00 and close at 18:00 but some, mainly in cities, stay open until 20:00. The first estimated results according to data collected and polls are then released.

What identification is allowed?

French citizens do not need their electoral card to vote (in person). However, they do need to bring one of the following:

  • National identity card (valid or expired within the last 5 years)

  • Passport (valid or expired within the last 5 years)

  • Parliamentary identity card (valid) with photograph, issued by the president of a parliamentary assembly

  • Local elected representative's identity card (valid) with photograph, issued by the representative of the State

  • Carte Vitale (French national health insurance card) with photograph

  • Carte du combattant (valid) with photograph, issued by the Office national des anciens combattants et victimes de guerre (National Office for Veterans and Victims of War)

  • Carte d'invalidité (valid for one year) with photograph or carte de mobilité inclusion (valid for one year) with photograph

  • Civil servant's identity card with photograph

  • Military Identity card (valid for one year) with photograph or carte de circulation (valid for one year) with photograph

  • Driving licence (valid)

  • Receipt for an identity card application (issued in exchange for identity papers in the event of a judicial inspection)

  • Valid hunting licence with photograph, issued by the Office national de la chasse et de la faune sauvage (ONCFS). The hunting licence issued by the Office national de la biodiversité is not valid.