Polls opened across France Sunday for the first round of the country’s presidential election, where up to 48 million eligible voters will be choosing between 12 candidates.
Polls opened at 08:00 CET on Sunday morning and close at 19:00 CET Sunday evening in most places, although they'll be open for an extra hour in some bigger cities.
France operates a manual system for elections: Voters are obliged to cast ballots in person, which will then be hand-counted when the voting closes.
Unless one of the candidates gets more than half of the nationwide vote, there will be a second and decisive round of voting between the top two candidates on Sunday 24 April.
There have been concerns about voter apathy in the lead up to the elections, and France's Ministry of Interior announced the turnout at midday was 25.4%.
Many analysts are concerned that the record abstention rate of 2002 (28.4%), the highest level ever recorded for a first round of a presidential election, could be beaten. In the 2017 presidential election there was a 22.2% abstention rate.
Bundled up against an April chill, voters lined up to cast ballots at a polling station in southern Paris on Sunday before it opened. Once inside, they placed their paper ballots into envelopes and then into a transparent box, some wearing masks or using hand gel as part of COVID-19 measures.
In Marseille, the 480 polling stations opened without any problem, the city hall said.
Carole Junique, 47, a civil servant, came to vote during the first hour the polls were open.
"In France, we have the right to vote, it is important to keep it. Of course we have only one voice among others, but if everyone mobilizes it can change things," she said.
Many voters don't hide the fact that their choice was difficult. Cédric Hodimont, in his forties, regrets having finally made "a vote by default".
In Pantin, Michèle Monnier, 77 years old, retired and a former school caretaker, also voted early.
"The women of my time fought to vote, so whatever the election, I'll vote," she said.
Blandine Lehout, 32, an actress, goes to the market with her daughter: "This is the first time in my life that I'm not going to vote. I will vote in the legislative elections, but I hate them all. We are at a stage where they scare me."
In Libourne, a town of 25,000 inhabitants near Bordeaux the deputy mayor said he had been surprised by a brisk turnout already by 08:30.
"We see that there are people, there is mobilization, compared to other elections like the European or regional election," he said.