Foreigners’ right to vote: in Seine-Saint-Denis, “many feel left out”

When asked who the mayor of Aubervilliers is, Yasmina, an Algerian who has lived in the town for 40 years, smiles, a little embarrassed. “Wait, I have it on the tip of my tongue, it’s a woman …” You have to whisper the name of Meriem Derkaoui to him. ” Oh yes it’s true ! she laughs. You know, I don’t have the right to vote, but if I could vote I would, my children in fact have the right. I could apply for French nationality, but it’s complicated… ”

Like her, 24,209 people over the age of 15 * do not (or will not) have the right to vote in Aubervilliers, because they do not have French nationality. That is almost a third of the local population. On March 15 and 22, they will therefore not be able to decide on the choice of their future mayor.

Unanimity on the left

Conversely, 3,607 people over the age of 15 from the European Union can (or will be able) to go to the polls in the municipality, as authorized since 1992 by the Maastricht Treaty giving the right to vote to European community members for local polls.

In Seine-Saint-Denis, where 241,503 non-EU foreigners over 15 years of age live, the question of their right to vote in local elections finds particular resonance. Its extension seems to be unanimous on the left like Meriem Derkaoui, the PCF mayor of Aubervilliers, or the socialist Olivier Klein, the city councilor of Clichy-sous-Bois.

An advisory council for foreign citizens in Saint-Denis

As a symbol, the communist city of Saint-Denis – which has 23,416 non-EU foreigners over the age of 15 – has even created an advisory council of foreign citizens, on which 32 people sit.

On the right, Bruno Beschizza, the mayor (LR) of Aulnay-sous-Bois is opposed to it. “In France, we have a tradition which closely links the right to vote to nationality,” he recalls. However, the French, them, would support it at 62%, according to a poll published at the end of January by Harris Interactive for “The Letter of citizenship”.

“This election can have a strong impact on their daily life”

“A lot of foreigners are frustrated because they feel left out of society. The stake is all the more important in the municipal elections, because this ballot can have a strong impact on their daily life, on the questions of education for example, Their children being schooled in their commune ”, points Ameziane Azzedine, Franco-Algerian and member of the Franco-Algerian cultural center of Seine-Saint-Denis.

On the political level, the subject is Arlesian. Promised by François Mitterrand in 1981, then by François Hollande in 2012, the measure was never implemented. And no longer seems to be the order of the day. Asked about the subject in February 2019 during a debate on the suburbs, the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, had declared that the “battle” in the neighborhoods should rather focus on the fight against abstention and in the support for foreigners wishing to obtain French nationality.

Citizen votes

Except that “when you grow up in a house where no one has their voter card, the vote may not seem important at 18,” said Meriem Derkaoui, whose city – like many municipalities in the department – knows rates very high abstentions.

Without being able to vote, foreigners still end up going to the polls. In May 2019, four cities – Bagnolet, Bondy, Montreuil and Les Lilas – organized a citizens’ vote on water management open to over 16s of all nationalities. But the ballot – technical – attracted only 4,700 inhabitants. These citizens’ votes are also part of the programs of many candidates for the next municipal elections.

* INSEE divides the population into the following age categories: under 15, 15-24, etc. It is therefore impossible to target only in our figures the adults of which they alone have the right to vote.

“Living in a country and being excluded from citizenship has inevitable consequences”

Hervé Andrès holds a doctorate in political science from the University of Paris Diderot and an engineer at the Urmis laboratory (Migration and Society Research Unit) of the National Center for Scientific Research. He completed a thesis on the right to vote for foreigners, which he also supports.

How do non-EU foreigners feel about being excluded from the polls?

Living in a country and being excluded from citizenship has inevitable consequences. It is enough to talk about it with the people concerned to realize it. Imagine how they feel on election day when they see everyone going to the polling station, but they don’t have access. Even if many have come to accept this state of affairs, it gives them the impression of not belonging to the community in which they are nevertheless involved on a daily basis.

You also think that this exclusion caricatures the vision that all citizens can have of citizenship …

Yes, it locks them into a very narrow view by instilling the idea that citizenship can only be granted to us by the state by chance of our place of birth or our family of birth. However, citizenship is not limited to a legal status of rights and duties, it is a mode of political action. It is no coincidence that those who militate for the right to vote for foreigners also militate for much more active forms of democracy.

In cities where many foreigners live, does their exclusion from the ballot box have an impact on abstention?

There is an established link. Studies show that the fact of accompanying one’s parents to the polling station constitutes a factor of political socialization which reduces abstentionism.

What should be done to make the vote of foreigners a right?

There would have to be a constitutional revision, which poses no problem from a legal point of view, but is a matter of political debate. I think that today a referendum would be the most realistic way to settle this question.


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