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Gambians go to polls using marbles, iron ballot boxes

BY: Edmund Smith Asante

Perhaps unheard of, especially in these modern days when countries are trying to device hi-tech means during elections but The Gambia, the smallest country in the west of mainland Africa, has introduced an indigenous way to choose its next leader.

As eligible voters go to the polls today, they would be voting with marbles, not ballot papers and they will not be casting their votes in transparent boxes – The marbles will be dropped into drums.

“As one casts his or her marble ballot it will make noise for all to know that a vote has been cast,” a Gambian journalist, Ms Rohey Bittaye, told Graphic Online.

“Each voter is given a marble at the polling site after one’s voter registration is verified by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) officials and party representatives at the ground. Then the individual is given a marble before entering the polling booth.

“Once in, you will find iron ballot boxes built in a way that once a vote is cast it will alarm once for everyone to hear, indicating you have voted.

“Each party is allocated one box and the party colour is also painted on the ‘box’ with a picture of the party leader to help voters identify who they are voting for,” she added.

Aspirants

In today’s election, the incumbent Adama Barrow of the National People’s Party (NPP), who seeks a second term is contesting the Presidential seat with five others.

Mr Barrow, the product of a coalition of seven political parties, was meant to govern for three years, as agreed by the coalition, but midway he decided to complete his tenure and now seeks re-election.

Gunning for the seat he now occupies are Ousainou Darboe of the United Democratic Party (UDP), Halifa Sallah of the People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS), Mama Kandeh of the Gambia Democratic Congress (GDC), Essa Mbaye Faal, Independent Candidate and Abdoulie Jammeh of the National Unity Party (NUP).

This is after the IEC last month disqualified 15 out of the initial 21 candidates for not meeting the constitutional requirements.

About one million Gambians have been registered to vote.

Rigging

It is believed that the marble system will prevent any form of rigging.

“You cannot vote twice. You cast your vote at the centre you were registered. And once you vote all parties will mark that you voted along with IEC election officers.

“Election malpractices can only happen at the time of voter registration, when parties can help non Gambians register to vote,” Ms Bittaye said.

Graphic Online gathered that allegations of voter registration irregularities during Jammeh's era was just speculation, as there is still no evidence.

Registration of underage citizens is also barred by a provision in The Gambia’s election laws which states that if an individual cannot provide his/her national Identity card or birth certificate the village Alkalo (chief) can attest on his/her behalf that he/she is a citizen of that community and of a certain age.

Aside the marble replacing the ballot paper though, indelible ink is used to show one has voted.
No Parliamentary

Unlike what pertains in other jurisdictions such as Ghana, however, today’s voting will only be for the next President of The Gambia. Voting for parliamentarians will be held three clear months after today’s presidential election.

Counting

When voting is over, the IEC officials will bring out the counting trays and open ballot ‘boxes’ to count on the spot where the party reps and the public can all stand and watch before the results are then transported to the election house where they will tabulate the overall results.

Voting starts at 8a.m. and ends at 5p.m. and counting starts immediately. Results announcing starts tonight and a winner will be declared in the morning tomorrow, Sunday, December 5, 2021.

Meanwhile, the media will be voting along with other Gambians, though they can be given priority when they provide their media ID cards so that they do not join the long queue if they are on duty.