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Voting with marbles: Gambia’s unique voting method

Gambians today are at the polls to choose their leader for the next five years. The country uses the first past-the post system, and the voting process is quite unique, instead of ballot papers, voters use marbles, and there are no ballot boxes either but ballot drums.

Gambians today are at the polls to choose their next leader in a presidential election pitting incumbent, President Yahya Jammeh against challengers, Adama Barrow and Mamma Kandeh.

The Gambia has a unique method of voting for their president, instead of ballot papers, voters use marbles. The glass marbles represent ballot papers and there are no ballot boxes but ballot drums.

Voting Process

The three presidential candidates each get a metal drum, which is painted in a particular colour, with their photograph and symbol on it. President Jammeh is represented by the Green drum, Barrow by the Grey drum and Kandeh is represented by the Purple drum.

An IEC (Independent Electoral Commission) official shows an electoral document of incumbent president Yahya Jammeh next to the ballot boxes with the colours of the three parties contesting in the presidential election at a hotel conference centre in Serekunda on November 28, 2016 during a demonstration held by the Independent Electoral Commission of Gambia on voting procedures. Photo: ANP/AFP Marco Longari
An IEC (Independent Electoral Commission) official shows an electoral document of incumbent president Yahya Jammeh next to the ballot boxes with the colours of the three parties contesting in the presidential election at a hotel conference centre in Serekunda on November 28, 2016 during a demonstration held by the Independent Electoral Commission of Gambia on voting procedures. Photo: ANP/AFP Marco Longari

According to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), during voting an eligible voter receives the voting marble/token from a polling officer and the voter enters the voting booth and drops the marble in his/her chosen ballot drum (sealed). Election officials have to listen for the ring of a bicycle bell, attached to the end of a tube inside the drum. The ring prevents people from voting multiple times.

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During vote counting, the presiding officer breaks the seal from the drum, pours the tokens onto a sieve and filters them. The tokens are arranged onto a counting tray and a filled tray is shown to various election officials who are present. The polling and counting agents as well as observers confirm the counted marbles and filled trays, which are then recorded on the counting form and collated at the collation centre.

A man stands next to metal ballot drums stored at a local IEC (Independent Electoral Commission) headquarters in Serekunda on November 29, 2016 ahead of Gambia's presidential election. Photo: ANP/AFP Marco Longari
A man stands next to metal ballot drums stored at a local IEC (Independent Electoral Commission) headquarters in Serekunda on November 29, 2016 ahead of Gambia’s presidential election. Photo: ANP/AFP Marco Longari

The IEC says 886,000  Gambians are eligible to vote. The winner  of the election will serve a five-year term in a country of  about 1.9 million citizens.

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