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EXPLAINER: How France’s old-school voting system works

PARIS (AP) — Paper ballots tucked in paper envelopes. No absentee voting, and no early voting either. French voters in Sunday’s presidential election are using and old-school system that has defied calls for more flexibility or modernization.

As France’s 48.8 million voters are invited to choose between President Emmanuel Macron and his far-right challenger Marine Le Pen, here is a look at how the French election works:

HOW DO THEY CAST BALLOTS?

Voters make their choices in a booth, with the curtains closed, then place their ballot in an envelope that is then put into a transparent ballot box. They must show photo identification and sign a document, next to their name, to complete the process.

Machine-voting has been allowed on an experimental basis, but the purchase of new machines has been frozen since 2008 due to security concerns. Only about 60 towns still use them, out of 35,000 municipalities in France.

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Last year, Macron’s centrist government tried to pass an amendment to allow early voting by machine to encourage electoral participation amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Senate, led by a conservative majority, rejected the measure, arguing it was announced with too little notice and wasn’t solid enough legally.

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A nationwide effort to streamline voter rolls, notably to remove people who had died or changed addresses, led to some people being unable to vote in the first round presidential election April 10. The state statistics agency reported that about 3,100 voters who were removed by error were restored to voting lists in time for the second round.

ARE THERE OTHER OPTIONS?

Mail-in voting was banned in 1975 amid fears of potential fraud.

People who can’t go to the polls for various reasons can authorize someone else to vote for them.

To do so, a voter must fill out a form ahead of time and bring it to a police station. Up to 7% of people voted by proxy in the last presidential election five years ago. French people living abroad vote in embassies or consulates.

Local authorities can organize vans or buses to pick up older people from nursing homes to bring them to voting stations, and prisons set up voting stations inside their facilities.

HOW ARE THE BALLOTS COUNTED?

Volunteers count the ballots one by one, by hand. Officials then use state-run software to register and report results.

But legally only the paper counts. If a result is challenged, the paper ballots are recounted manually.

For towns using machines, the results are registered locally and then reported to the Interior Ministry, which oversees elections. The ministry said it received no reports of irregularities involving voting machines in the first-round vote on April 10.

WHAT ABOUT COVID-19?

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Most pandemic restrictions have been lifted in the country. The number of cases is significantly lower than earlier this year, but there are still more than 80,000 new confirmed infections each day.

People who test positive for the virus can go to the polls. They are strongly advised to wear a mask and follow other health guidelines.

Voters can wash their hands at polling stations, which also have hand sanitizer available. Equipment is to be frequently cleaned. Each voting station lets fresh air in for at least 10 minutes every hour.

The remains of 17 missing French soldiers who fought in the World War I Battle of Gallipoli were on Sunday handed over to French military officials and put to rest alongside other fallen comrades more than a century after their deaths.

The remains were found during restoration work on a castle and surrounding areas on Turkey’s northwestern Canakkale Peninsula, where Allied forces fought against Ottoman Turks in the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign that started with landings on the peninsula on April 25, 1915.

Col. Philippe Boulogne paid tribute to soldiers who “came to defend their homeland on this distant land, the scene of one of the most tragic episodes in our history” at the handing-over ceremony.

The ceremony coincided with commemorations marking the 107th anniversary of the start of the battle, during which French, British and other soldiers are remembered. On Monday, Australians and New Zealanders will mark Anzac Day to remember their fallen soldiers in a dawn ceremony.

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“Zouaves (light-infantry corps) and riflemen from Senegal, Algeria, legionnaires, 10,000 French and colonial soldiers fell in the front at Gallipoli,” Boulogne said. “Neither the scale of the losses nor the violence of the war diminished the bravery of these men. Their courage and their sense of sacrifice will never be forgotten.”

Only one out of the 17 French soldiers — Cpl. Paul Roman, of the 1st Engineers Regiment — has been formally identified.

Authorities were also able to identify three tombstones belonging to Cmdr. Galinier of the 58th Colonial Infantry Regiment, and Capt. Stefani and 2nd Lt. Charvet of the 4th Zouaves, according to the French Embassy. Only their last names were provided.

The World War I Gallipoli campaign aimed to secure a naval route from the Mediterranean Sea to Istanbul through the Dardanelles, and take the Ottoman Empire out of the war. The Gallipoli landings marked the start of a fierce battle that lasted for eight months.

Around 44,000 Allied troops and 86,000 Ottoman soldiers died in the fighting.

Ismail Tasdemir, the Turkish official in charge of the historical site, said during the handing-over ceremony that the former battlefields have now become a land of “peace, tranquility and trust.”

At the soldiers’ final resting place at the Seddulbahir French cemetery, French Embassy official Mathilde Grammont read from a message that modern Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk — a former Gallipoli commander — wrote for the mothers of the fallen soldiers:

“You, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

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