updated 4/21/2007 8:00:06 AM ET 2007-04-21T12:00:06

Voters on two tiny islands off northeast Canada kicked off France’s presidential elections Saturday, casting their ballots a day ahead of voters on the French mainland.

Polling stations on the islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon opened their doors at 8:00 a.m. local time (6 a.m. EDT) under sunny skies, local officials said by telephone.

“It’s quite amusing for islanders to be the first in all of France to vote,” said Jacky Hautier, secretary-general of Saint-Pierre prefecture.

Nearly 5,000 people on the two islands are eligible to vote, Hautier said.

This is the first time voters in France’s overseas territories cast their ballots before those in the mainland. The change was made to counter low voter turnout during previous elections in 2002. Then, overseas voters cast ballots on the same day as those on the mainland. But because of the time differences between France and its overseas territories, results from the election were already known before overseas voting had finished.

Voters in the first round were paring down a field of 12 candidates to two favorites, who will compete in a runoff on May 6.

Conservative Nicolas Sarkozy, a tough-talking former interior minister, was widely expected to make it into the second round. Opinion polls showed opposition Socialist Segolene Royal, who was bidding to become France’s first woman president, will also probably make it to round two. But she needed to fend off competition from Francois Bayrou, whose pledges to bridge the traditional gap between the right and left catapulted him into third place in pre-vote surveys.

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