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Votes at the National Assembly
I. – THE PERSONAL NATURE OF THE VOTE
Article 27 of the Constitution declares the personal nature of the vote of parliamentarians and prohibits all voting by binding instructions; it limits the delegation of voting by disallowing each parliamentarian from receiving more than one proxy vote. The Ordinance of 7 November 1958 completes this provision by listing the cases in which parliamentarians are permitted to delegate their right to vote.
For a long time, these provisions were skirted around by the technique of the electronic vote: each M.P. had a personal key which he however would leave on his desk. Since 1993, the limitation to a single proxy vote per M.P. has been strictly applied. At the same time, the Rules of Procedure of the National Assembly allow the Conference of Presidents to decide on a public ballot and to set its timing so as to allow the greatest number of M.P.s possible to be present. Since then, for the most important ballots, i.e. the overall votes on major bills, ballots are usually held on Tuesday afternoons after Government question time. This type of ballot is usually called a “formal vote”.
II. – THE PUBLIC NATURE OF THE VOTE
With the exception of votes on personal appointments (the election of the President at the beginning of a term of Parliament, for example), all votes in the Parliament are public. They may be by show of hands, by ordinary public ballot, by public ballot at the tribune or in the rooms adjoining the Chamber.
1. – Vote by show of hands
This is the normal voting procedure. The President verifies the result of the vote and announces it. In case of doubt on the result, the Assembly shall vote by standing and sitting. If there is still doubt, the President may decide to proceed to an ordinary public ballot.
When voting by show of hands, the M.P.s present publicly show their position. However this position is not recorded nor is it published in the Journal Officiel.
2. – VOTE by ordinary public ballot
Such a vote is taken by right:
- Upon a decision of the chairman of the sitting or upon a request by the Government or by the lead committee;
- Upon a request by the chairman of a group or of his delegate, provided the chairman of the group has notified the President of the National Assembly, in advance, of the delegate's name;
- Upon a decision of the Conference of Presidents. The latter only uses this prerogative in the case of a vote on the whole body of the most important texts. The Conference of Presidents will generally use such a prerogative to postpone the vote to a day and a time when as many M.P.s as possible may participate.
Voting by ordinary public ballot takes place electronically. Each M.P. votes using his console and his vote is directly recorded by computer. At the end of the ballot, the chairman of the sitting announces the result and calls for it to be displayed on three electronic screens within the chamber. Minutes later, a political analysis of the ballot, giving the position of the majority of each political group as well as a list of the names of “dissident” M.P.s, is posted at the entrance to the Chamber. This analysis is published in the Journal officiel, in annex to the report of the sitting and also appears on the internet site of the National Assembly.
For public ballots, an M.P. may hold one, and only one, proxy vote on behalf of one of his absent colleagues. The proxy votes are processed by the electronic voting machine. The vote of the delegate (the M.P. who is present) on his console thus automatically leads the machine to register the vote of his delegator (the absent M.P.) as a vote in the same way.
3. – Vote by public ballot at the rostrum or in the rooms adjoining the chamber
Such a vote is taken by right:
- When the Constitution requires a qualified majority (the adoption upon final reading of institutional acts, the indictment of the President of the Republic for high treason); the absolute majority of M.P.s making up the National Assembly is then required. This majority is calculated according to the numbers of seats actually filled (vacant seats are not counted);
- When an issue of confidence in the Government has been raised, in application of article 49, paragraph 1, of the Constitution i.e. if the Government makes its programme or a statement of general policy an issue of confidence (the majority of votes cast is required) or of article 49, paragraph 2 of the Constitution, i.e. for a vote on a motion of no confidence (the absolute majority of M.P.s making up the National Assembly is required in this case and only votes for the motion are counted).
This vote used to take place using an electronic ballot box which was placed on the speakers’ rostrum. The ushers carried out a roll call and the M.P.s cast their vote at the rostrum when their name was called. They placed a white voting paper (For), a blue one (Against) or a red one (Abstention) in the ballot box. They could also place a ballot paper for their delegator.
The slowness of such operations led the National Assembly to modify its Rules of Procedure in 2003. Now, the Conference of Presidents may decide that the ballot will take place “in the rooms adjoining the Chamber” where several such ballot boxes are set up. The ballot is open for one hour and this period is limited to 30 minutes for no-confidence motions. Each ballot paper has a bar code which enables the machine to identify the M.P. and the way he has voted. At the end of the ballot, the results are immediately declared and a political analysis of the position of each M.P. is made available in the minutes which follow. In this case too, the analysis is published in the Journal officiel, as well as on the internet site of the National Assembly.
In addition, since the modification of the Rules of Procedure of May 27, 2009, the colour codes have been simplified: the blue ballot paper represents a vote FOR; the red ballot paper, a vote AGAINST and the white one, represents ABSTENTION.
During 2008, 204 ordinary ballots took place, of which 15 were “formal” and 1 on a motion of no-confidence during which the rooms adjoining the chamber were used.
III. – THE VALIDITY OF THE VOTE
1. – General rules
- Allowing for exceptions, ballots are held based on the majority of votes cast.
- The result is declared by the President (with the words “The Assembly has adopted” or “The Assembly has not adopted”).
- After the end of the ballot, votes may not be changed; however, the nominative details of votes may require some adjustment when an M.P. makes a mistake regarding his vote or when he has not managed to vote because of a mishap or on account of a breakdown in the electronic system.
2. – The checking of votes
This is the task of the secretaries of the Bureau for certain ballots: ordinary public ballots using voting papers (in the case of the electronic voting system breaking down), public ballots at the rostrum or in the rooms adjoining the Chamber and secret ballots for individual appointments.
3. – The quorum
In accordance with a Republican principle which is repeated in its Rules of Procedure, “the National Assembly may deliberate and determine its agenda whatever the number of M.P.s present”. Votes are thus valid whatever the number of M.P.s present unless the chairman of a group asks for the checking of the quorum before the opening of the ballot. This request is only taken into account if the majority of the members of this group are, themselves, present in the Chamber (reform of the Rules of Procedure of May 27, 2009).
The quorum refers to the presence in the precincts of the National Assembly of an absolute majority of M.P.s (calculated on the number of seats actually filled).
When a vote does not take place because of the lack of quorum, the sitting is adjourned and deferred by at least fifteen minutes (since June 2009). The vote is then valid no matter how many M.P.s are present.