A supporter waves a French flag in front of the Assemblee Nationale building in Paris, France (Photographer: Alastair Miller/Bloomberg News)  

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

(Bloomberg) -- France goes to the polls on Sunday for the first round of the presidential election, with four candidates capable of reaching the May 7 runoff. In what is arguably the most surprising and controversial election campaign in the 59-year-old Fifth Republic, voters’ choices include a centrist who has never run for office, a far-right candidate who wants to leave the euro, a center-right candidate battling a corruption scandal and a Communist-backed leftist who uses holograms of himself in his campaign rallies.

The Candidates: Melenchon, Hamon, Macron, Fillon, Le Pen

Source: Bloomberg

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. Turnout will be key in an election in which centrist Emmanuel Macron, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen of the National Front, center-right Francois Fillon of The Republicans and far-left Jean-Luc Melenchon, who is backed by the Communist Party, are within 5.5 points of each other.
  • 12 p.m. Sunday: Interior Ministry releases first details of turnout. Turnout will play a large role in determining who has the best chances. While Le Pen, whose party holds only two seats in the current parliament, would arguably benefit the most from low voting rates, it would take record numbers to get her over the top in the second round.
  • 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. Both the Interior Ministry and pollsters who participate in counts publish preliminary results. Historically these numbers have immediately showed who the finalists were, though races have rarely been this close, with this many candidates. Pollsters, among others, have struggled to cope with the tightness of the race and the high proportion of undecideds.
  • Results will roll in throughout the evening, but how long is anyone’s guess. Pollsters say Sunday’s final result may take hours after polling places shut their doors. Bloomberg’s composite of polls shows a 1.5-point gap between Macron and Le Pen, followed by a 3-point gap between Le Pen and Francois Fillon. Fourth-placed Melenchon is just one point behind. If voters are equally divided, it could be a long night.
  • 5 p.m. Wednesday: The Constitutional Court will officially announce the election results.

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