Voters in two towns in France are to test electronic polling booths during the forthcoming elections for the president and members of the national assembly.

Just over 1,500 voters will receive smartcards containing personal identification information, including a fingerprint. The cards will allow them to identify themselves at electronic ballot boxes, which will collect votes and transmit them to a secure central server, according to French telco France Télécom, one of the participants in the project.

Electronic voting is still some time away in the UK, however, so this could put France way in front for electronic democracy.

In Merignac in the southwest of France, 780 voters from the town's population of 65,000 will be invited to use the electronic polling booths in the two rounds of the presidential elections in April and May, France Télécom said.

Then at the end of May, 730 voters selected from the 33,000 inhabitants of Vandoeuvre-les-Nancy will be able to vote for their deputy in the elections for the National Assembly.

The test is part of a wider project called E-Poll, funded by the EU under its 5th Framework Project for research. The technology has already been tested in Avellino, Italy, in a referendum on constitutional change on 7 October.

But despite the sophisticated security and authentication systems in use, the French trials, in Merignac in the southwest of France and Vandoeuvre-les-Nancy in the East, carry no legal weight. French law still only recognises paper voting, and so those participating in the trials will also have to vote using the regular system if they want their vote to count.

Several French deputies have put forward proposals to make electronic votes legal. Most recently, Alain Ferry put forward a draft law on 24 April last year, calling for voting by internet to be permitted.

Ferry, mayor of the town of Wisches and a deputy since 1993, said in his proposal last April that he was worried by the falling turnout for national elections, and particularly by the turnout of just 30 percent for a recent referendum on a change to the constitution. Allowing citizens to vote by internet, he said, would benefit those who lived far from the polling stations.

The draft law was shelved due to lack of support.