Arab and black citizens of poor French neighborhoods have been dashing to town halls to beat a deadline set for Saturday to register to vote in next year's presidential elections.
"Enormous. Enormous. Enormous" is how Christine Martin, the electoral official for the Saint-Denis town hall, north of Paris, described the rush to register. She counted 300 registrations for Thursday alone, with 5,300 since the start of the year _ compared to less than 4,000 in 2001, the year before the last presidential vote.
South of Paris, in Trappes, officials say there has been a 45 percent increase in voter registration from 2001.
It follows a "get out and vote" campaign by rappers and others in the wake of rioting in 2005, when the depth of disaffection among the youth of France's poor ethnic minorities was laid bare.
"The Vote Is The Best Molotov Cocktail" reads a T-Shirt distributed by "Explicit Politik," a project featuring an album urging the youth to vote.
Hicham Kochman, a rapper better known as Axiom, from the northern city of Lille, included a plea for minority youth to vote in his recently released album.
"My call to vote ... is a call for survival," Axiom said in a recent interview. His motivation? "My role is simple. I'm a citizen."
It is unclear to what extent the riots, the rappers or the numerous get-out-the vote groups have played a role in the new enthusiasm to vote. And it is equally unclear which candidate might benefit most from the enthusiasm.
Leading presidential hopefuls, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist candidate Segolene Royal are wondering how it might affect their chances.
Some potential youth voters say they are signing up to block Sarkozy, who heads the governing Union for a Popular Movement. Others want to ensure that far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen _ not yet an official candidate _ does not reach the runoff as he did in 2002 when he faced down incumbent President Jacques Chirac.
Sarkozy, expected to be anointed his party's candidate Jan. 14, has been hesitant to set foot in the suburbs. Reviled for his tough stance against delinquency, he is also remembered for referring to some project youth as "scum." But Sarkozy supports a form of affirmative action opposed by many who say it contradicts France's egalitarian ideals.
Vincent Tiberj of the Institute for Political Science was skeptical that French citizens of African or North African origin, only 4 percent of the electorate, could make a difference in the presidential election _ except in a very tight runoff.
For most associations, the candidate is not the point.
"We must vote to be able to say that we exist," said Amed Ly of Montfermeil and member of the association Yesterday for Tomorrow. "For politicians, the voting card is the only way to say it."
Associated Press reporter Cecile Brisson in Paris contributed to this report.