France Votes: An Hour-by-Hour Guide to the Presidential Election

  • Centrist Macron takes on nationalist Le Pen in runoff
  • Macron leads by more than 20 points as campaign concludes

France goes to the polls on Sunday for the final round of the presidential election, with Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen vying to be the country’s next head of state. After the candidates from France’s traditional parties were eliminated in the first round, the most dramatic election campaign in the 59-year history of the Fifth Republic comes down to a stark choice between an independent centrist promising a renewal of European alliances and a nationalist who wants to pull out of the euro and erect barriers on the borders to restrict trade and immigration.

Here’s a brief rundown of what happens when, in Paris’s time zone:

  • Midnight Friday: the campaign officially ends. No more polls can be published and the candidates cease public statements.
  • Saturday: voting begins in some overseas territories, such as Guadeloupe and Martinique.
  • 8 a.m. Sunday: polls open in mainland France. 
  • 12 p.m. Sunday: Interior Ministry releases first details of turnout. Far-right candidate Le Pen’s chances increase as more voters stay home because her support is seen as more solid than Macron’s. Polling firm Ifop estimates that she needs abstentions to reach an unprecedented 40 percent if she’s going to overturn her deficit.
  • 5 p.m. Sunday: Interior Ministry releases update on turnout.
  • 7 p.m. Sunday: Polls close outside major cities, counting begins.
  • 8 p.m. Sunday: Final polls close. Preliminary results will be published almost immediately.
  • Both the Interior Ministry and polling firms will be publishing numbers as soon as voting ends. The government will give details of the first ballots counted, though pollsters’ projections may be closer to the final result. They will have observers in polling stations across the country and will be using a sample of the initial ballots weighted to match the breakdown of the electorate as a whole.
  • The official results will roll in throughout the evening, but unless the race is much tighter than the polls are suggesting, the winner should be clear from the first projections.
  • The outgoing president’s term expires at midnight on May 14, suggesting the next head of state is likely to be sworn in by the end of the week. 

Looking Ahead

  • The first big challenge for the new president will be to secure a governing majority in next month’s legislative elections. While one poll on May 3 projected that Macron’s one-year-old En Marche movement could win as many as 286 of the 577 seats in the National Assembly, pollsters may release more detailed projections using the results of the presidential vote.

— With assistance by Hayley Warren, and Samuel Dodge

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