Local school plays role in French presidential election

May 1, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Inside the Issaquah School District boundaries is a rarity in vote-by-mail Washington — a polling location.

Frédéric Dubut

The election did not appear on local ballots, but the outcome could resonate on a global stage. The only polling location for French expatriates in the region is the French Immersion School of Washington, a campus situated along West Lake Sammamish Parkway Southeast next to Sunset Elementary School.

The campus hosted a stream of voters late last month amid the initial voting in the French presidential election.

Frédéric Dubut drove from Seattle in a borrowed Zipcar on April 21 to slip a ballot into a transparent box and cast a vote in the 10-candidate contest.

The initial round culled the field to top candidates for a runoff election. Dubut plans to return to the French Immersion School of Washington to cast a ballot in the runoff May 6 — or May 5 in Washington due to the time difference.

French citizens living in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Washington and Wyoming must cast ballots at the French Immersion School of Washington. The other polling location in the Pacific Northwest is at the French American International School in Portland, Ore.

Though voting by mail is common in the United States — and state law in Washington — the procedure to cast a ballot differs in France.

“Somebody has to go — either it’s you or somebody else to whom you’ve given a mandate,” Dubut said.

If a voter cannot cast a ballot in person at a designated polling location in France or abroad, he or she must designate a proxy, or a voter from the same community, to cast a ballot in his or her place.

Then, volunteers count ballots by hand and report the results to election officials.

“That may sound a bit old-fashioned in the 21st century, but I find it a very pure way to just go and vote,” Dubut said.

The Microsoft employee read national newspapers Le Figaro, Le Monde and Libération to stay current on politics in France after relocating to Washington a year ago.

Incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy is poised to face Socialist challenger François Hollande in the upcoming runoff.

Sarkozy, candidate for the center-right party Union for a Popular Movement, is not a lock for another term. The incumbent finished about 1 percent behind the center-left candidate, Hollande, in the initial round.

“We have a growing far-right party, and people were thinking that maybe this far-right party would just eat up votes from Sarkozy and, maybe, one possibility would be that he wouldn’t make it,” Dubut said. “In the end, there was no surprise. It was the two candidates that we expected.”

Turnout reached 25.6 percent for voters assigned to the French Immersion School of Washington polling location.

“Given the scale of the region, it’s pretty good, actually,” Dubut said.

Sarkozy garnered 43.2 percent among voters assigned to the local polling location. Hollande received 23.9 percent. Other candidates claimed the rest.

In France, Election Day carries a celebratory atmosphere. Dubut’s family in Marseille often headed to the polling location together.

Election Day in France is on a Sunday. Tuesday is the preferred day for elections in the United States.

“With the time difference, here in Issaquah it was Saturday our time,” Dubut said. “In France and any region which is east of France, it’s on Sunday.”

The decision to vote on a Sunday edges turnout higher as a result. In the initial round last month, turnout ascended to a stratospheric 79.5 percent. (In the last U.S. presidential election, by contrast, turnout reached 63 percent.)

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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