The quaint, but practical, marbles-based voting Gambians use to pick a president

Votes are cast by slipping marbles into “ballot drums.”
Votes are cast by slipping marbles into “ballot drums.”
Image: Reuters/Finbarr O'Reilly
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As Gambians go to the polls today (Dec. 1), votes will be cast by slipping marbles into a ballot drum rather than the conventional use of ballot papers and thumb-printing.

Gambia’s three presidential candidates, will have their photos and campaign symbols pasted on drums painted in their different colors. Votes for Yahya Jammeh, Gambia’s long-time president currently seeking a fifth five-year term, will be cast in a green painted drum. His challengers for the presidency, Adama Barrow and Mama Kandeh will get gray and purple painted drums respectively.

To prevent voter fraud, electoral officers have put a few measures in place. Voters enter a private area and slip marbles into the drums of their preferred candidate. Once the marble is in, a bicycle bell attached to a tube inside the drum clangs signifying that a vote has been cast. Also, in order to prevent confusion, bicycles are banned within 500 meters of the polling station. The measures have led president Jammeh to describe the system as being “fraud-proof.”

Sambousang Njie, Gambia’s director of electoral operations during the 2011 elections, has described the voting system, introduced in 1965, as “very unique” and says it helps the country save money. ”This kind of voting is somehow economical” Njie said. “You can use the ballot drum and ballot token over and over again, it is not possible to do ballot stuffing.” In addition to saving money on printing ballot papers, Gambia’s simple electoral system was also introduced due to the country’s low literacy levels.

Despite the system’s supposed reliability, fears abound that Jammeh could manipulate elections this year as he faces a strong challenge. Internet and phone services have been shuttered and EU election observers have been barred from entering the country. Jammeh has also warned against peaceful post-election protests ”because those are the loopholes that are used to destabilize African governments.”