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Gambia And Its Unique Voting System – OpEd

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The people of Gambia went to the polls last week to elect a new president for the country, not with a ballot but unique marbles and drums for voting. The Gambia is one of the smallest countries in Africa with a population of 2.5 million.

In this era of advancement in electoral management systems, with voter verification mechanisms and voting processes. This tiny country in West Africa prefers to use a century-old unique voting system, that is unique to the needs and conditions of the people of Gambia. I guess it could be relatively cost-effective compared to the modern computer-assisted voting system.

According to the sources, this unique system was introduced in 1960 and has been useful to date. Instead of the normal thump print style of voting with indelible ink as a mark of identification for voting the people of Gambia use glass marbles to vote. 

“Gambians are comfortable with the process of using glass marbles to vote,” said Mamadou A. Barry, a returning officer at the IEC.

The purpose of using this glass marble is to eliminate spoiled ballots normally associated with the normal voting system in many countries. This is useful in the Gambia due to the high illiteracy rate. So in the voting process in the Gambia, there’s nothing like a spoiled ballot or invalid vote and high voter turnout and it’s also relatively transparent and fair and also fast.

Before the voting starts an election official will carry the voting drums outside to show the long lines of voters, that they were empty before voting. Each voter is given a glass marble as he goes to vote. At the center is a ballot drum with the names of each candidate neatly printed on each ballot drum. A voters constitutional right is to simply drop the glass marble into the ballet drum of their preferred candidate. This is a process where the most illiterate person can do without any assistance.

Gambia’s electoral body described the system as “more transparent, most credible, fair,” for allowing the country’s many illiterate citizens to vote. 

At the end of the polls, the drums are emptied and the marbles are collected and placed on specially made wooden boards to mark 100 to 200 (or 200-500) holes per board. This enables counting officials to quickly see the number of votes cast in each drum.

Fatou Jagne, of media freedom organization Article 19 described the Gambia system as “simple, very basic and cost-effective and useful for everyone then-new voting system”. Apart from that it is also quite reliable and can be used anywhere with or without electricity. 

To modernize the electoral system an app called “Marble” has been developed for Gambia’s election tracking. 

*Francis Kwesi Kyirewiah is a Ph.D. candidate at Jilin university’s school of International Relations and Public Affairs in China. Can be reached via [email protected]

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