French municipal elections to conclude on 28th June

France is going ahead with the remainder of its municipal elections on 28th June. This excellent paper by International IDEA and others explains the background.

In short, there are about 35,000 municipal bodies (local councils) in France, the vast majority of which are very small – with fewer than 1,000 voters. They elect councillors in a two round system. The first of these rounds was held on March 15th and the second was scheduled for a week later.

The first round was held the day after President Macron instituted a lockdown. The problem was that the law in France did not allow for the elections to be postponed. When turnout fell dramatically, the political parties agreed by consensus to postpone the second round and this was subsequently confirmed by a new law.

More than 30,000 councils didn’t need a second round as the winners had secured more than 50% of the vote in the first. But there remained almost 5,000 municipalities (including the biggest cities) which did.

The emergency law decreed that the second round needed to be held by the end of June. If not, it implied that the elections should be scrapped altogether and started from scratch as soon as possible. But it was unclear whether this would apply to those municipalities where the elections were ‘finished’ as well as those which needed a second round.

In the event, President Macron and French political leaders have decided that the second round can go ahead on June 28th – before the deadline. This comes as lockdown is being eased cross the country. What will happen to turnout – particularly among older sections of the population – remains to be seen as France does not make provision for early, home or postal voting.

North Macedonia delays election. What about others?

Parliamentary elections in North Macedonia have been postponed as a result of the Covid-19 virus. The polls were set for April 12th. The election observation mission from OSCE/ODIHR had already been withdrawn from the country.

The election was called by former Prime Minister Zoran Zaev in response to the decision by the EU not to formally open accession talks with his country. French President Macron was believed to be behind the decision to halt the process.

Parties in North Macedonia must now hammer out a deal to decide when and how the elections can be re-scheduled.

With around 70 elections scheduled to take place this year, there will be many debates as to what is right for each particular circumstance. As the US primaries show, even if the main election is not due until much later in the year, problems now can still have a major impact

A paper by International IDEA discusses the challenges faced by those trying to hold elections at this time. They cite the need to balance public (and poll worker) safety with the curtailment of democracy if elections are suspended. But even if elections are pushed through, there is a high risk that many people will not risk going to vote and these may be disproportionately from certain groups. Using new technologies (or even old tech such as postal voting) is certainly on the table, but is very expensive to implement, requires high levels of voter education and opens a much greater risk of fraud.

The UK has taken the decision to delay local and mayoral elections by a whole year. Other countries will seek to delay for a much shorter period – perhaps hoping that circumstances will allow them to proceed in the autumn. Two other options might be to bring ruling parties and opposition together in a government of national unity for the period of the outbreak or to hold elections now, but recognise that these might not be fully representative and hold a fresh election in a year’s time.