France drops electronic voting for citizens abroad over cybersecurity fears

FILE PHOTO: Francois Fillon, former French prime minister, member of The Republicans political party and 2017 presidential election candidate of the French centre-right, attends a meeting at the Trocadero square across from the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, March 5, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/File Photo

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s government has dropped plans to let its citizens abroad vote electronically in legislative elections in June because of concern about the risk of cyber attacks, the Foreign Ministry said on Monday.

The National Cybersecurity Agency believed there was an “extremely high risk” of cyber attacks. “In that light, it was decided that it would be better to take no risk that might jeopardize the legislative vote for French citizens residing abroad,” the ministry said in a statement.

Concern about foreign interference in western elections has surged amid allegations of Russian hacking - which Moscow denies - in the U.S. presidential ballot.

Since 2012, French citizens abroad had been allowed to vote electronically in legislative elections, but not in the presidential vote. France will elect a new president in a two-round ballot in April and May.

The legislative election will be held in two rounds on June 11 and 18. France’s 1.3 million citizens abroad are represented in the lower house of parliament by 11 electoral districts.

In the presidential race, frontrunner Emmanuel Macron’s camp has said he is being targeted by Russian media and internet attacks from within Russia with the goal of helping the campaigns of his pro-Moscow rivals, allegations that Russian media and the Kremlin deny.

Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said last month that France would take retaliatory measures against any country that interfered in the presidential election.

Reporting by Marine Le Pennetier, writing by Leigh Thomas; editing by John Stonestreet