Turnout for the first round of France's presidential vote was higher than predicted on Sunday, hitting 70.59% at 1500 GMT, but slightly lower than the 73.87% at the same time in 2007.
Polling firm IFOP meanwhile projected that turnout would hit 80% by the end of voting at 1800 GMT, down slightly from the overall turnout in 2007 of 83.77%.
Pollsters had predicted that many voters could stay home during Sunday's first round, which polls showed Socialist Francois Hollande winning over incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Turnout at mid-day had been at 28.29%, down slightly from 31.21% at the same stage in the 2007 race.
Final voter turnout in the first round in 2007 was exceptionally strong, and a lower turnout, such as the 71.6% rate in 2002, would have benefited outsider candidates such as the far right's Marine Le Pen.
In the 2002 first round, her father Jean-Marie Le Pen scored a stunning result that saw him go to the second round before being defeated by Jacques Chirac.
Polling opened at 8:00am (0600 GMT) in mainland France and there were queues at many polling stations. Voting was to end between 6:00pm and 8:00pm in different parts of the country.
Sunday's first round will whittle the field down from 10 candidates to two -- in all likelihood Hollande and Sarkozy -- and the frontrunners will face each other in a second-round run-off on May 6.