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May 18, 2012

French voting in North America

There are reminders out there that the world, or at least a certain stratum of the world, once operated in French.

For centuries considered the language of diplomacy — ambassadors to Paris Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were fluent — French is still an official language of both the United Nations and the Olympics.

It seems the French have never really abandoned the Napoleonic dream of ruling the world. Where once cannons and battleships were the vehicles of French global ambition, now it is the ballot box. As of next week, for the first time ever, French citizens from around the world can vote to elect a deputy to the National Assembly.

As per changes initiated in 2010 by recently defeated French President Nicolas Sarkozy, French election officials divided the world up into 11 districts, each of which gets to send a representative to the 577-seat National Assembly. Canada and the United States have been unified as the constituency of "North America" under the new French electoral map — globe, actually — bearing the presumably prestigious No. 1 designation.

My knowledge of comparative government is limited and dim, but one suspects there are few nations on this planet that enfranchise ex-patriots to this extent. It is an accepted practice that citizens living in a foreign country get to vote for candidates back home, but to elect their own deputy?

(Since 1982, there have been senators representing overseas French citizens but they are elected indirectly through an extra-legislative organization.)

In any event, the race in North America has turned out to be hotly contested. The official list of candidates for No. 1, published this week in time for next week's first round of voting, contains 18 names.

This fierce electoral combat en etranger probably would have escaped much attention in the northern half of this French constituency had not a candidate based in Quebec City surfaced. Christophe Navel, a PhD graduate in education from Laval University who started up a bicycle courier service in the city, is running as an independent candidate, one of eight hopefuls not running on a specific party ticket.

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