How do Gambians vote?

My Magazine 2022/01
4 min
Presidential elections are among the most important elections for every country globally. But did you ever think about the variety of voting systems? If you are interested to know how Gambians vote, here is a rough description.

Five months before the election, the electoral commission organizes a voter’s registration in every community all over the country. All Gambian citizens aged 18 years and older who registers can vote. Every citizen receives a voter's card. This card makes one eligible to vote during the election. You cannot vote if you don't have a voter's card. Registration typically occurs at meetings points where people mostly gather in every community. Places such as big mosques, schools, market areas, or centres and places where most events are held. The registration usually lasts for a month, with commonly extended dates for a couple of weeks. After the registration, the electoral body counts how many people registered and announce the result. For presidential elections 2021, there was 962,157 voter’s cards issued.

When campaigns begin, candidates go out to every community to convince people to vote for them and talk about their future plans for the country.

Debates are happening all over social media, TV and radio stations, events until the day of the elections.

Most schools close in the middle of the week before elections and open three days after elections. People can only vote in the region where they are registered. So, some must travel to remote villages to give their vote.

On election day, everyone knows where to cast their votes. People line up early morning at the polling stations waiting for their turn. Older people, heavily pregnant women and women with small babies are given priority to vote first and not line up. It is a workday off.

Photo Credit: Bitz (@bitzphotography)

Before voting, the following conditions need to be met:

  • be in possession of a Gambian voter’s card
  • present oneself at the right polling station
  • must have voter’s name on the Register
  • must not be serving prison term
  • must not be of unsound mind
  • must not be in a state of inebriation

A team of four persons in hierarchical order man each polling station:  Presiding Officer, Assistant Presiding Officer, Polling Officer and Assistant Polling Officer.

Photo Credit: Bitz (@bitzphotography)

The Gambians vote with marbles. While the voter's name is being checked and confirmed in the voter's registration book, one marble is given to each voter, and at the same time, ink is applied to a voter's index finger to indicate that one has already voted. If the details on the card match with IEC (Independent Electoral Commission) data, the person goes into election booth to cast his/her vote.

Photo Credit: Bitz (@bitzphotography)

Polls open at 8.00 am and close at 5.00 pm, however, if there are voters in the queue at 5.00 pm, they will be allowed to cast their ballot.

Candidates have iron, cylindrical-shaped boxes painted with political party colour, with the name of the candidate and a photo attached to it. The box has a long narrow opening with a small hole on the top that fits only one marble to enter at a time. The box has a bell installed in it so each vote (marble) makes a sound. This ensures that nobody cheats by putting in more than one marble.

Photo Credit: Bitz (@bitzphotography)

The procedure for voting is based on the provisions as of the Elections Act.

The voting process occurs in this order:

  • Voter enters polling station
  • Voter shows his/her voting card to the polling assistant
  • Polling assistant directs voter to the right queue
  • Voter reports to the Assistant Presiding Officer (APO), who checks the voter’s card against the Register of Voters
  • APO checks that the voting card is genuine and the identity of the voter correlates that in card
  • Once satisfied, the APO draws a line through the serial number on the Alphabetical register of voters (N.B. If the voter is under any query as to his/her identity, the voter is referred to the Presiding Officer)
  • Voter then reports to the Polling Officer
  • The Polling Officer dips the voter’s left forefinger into indelible ink to ensure that they have been identified as eligible to vote.
  • Voter proceeds to the Presiding Officer, who checks the voter’s finger and then hands him/her a marble/token.
  • Voter enters the voting compartment and drops the marble/token in his/her chosen ballot drum
  • The Presiding Officer listens to the sound of the token/marble hitting the drum
  • The voter then leaves the voting compartment.

The spot counting process in The Gambia includes every party representative and the electoral body officers. Each political party's box is open one at a time. The marbles are laid on a wooden board that has small holes that fit one marble. The boards count 100 to 200 marbles at once. After feeling the board, another officer takes the record. The counting is done on the spot and the register is endorsed by all the party representatives. After counting the votes in each community, the records are sent to the electoral body to do the final addition, and the results of each constituency are announced on TV followed by the announcement of the winner.

Celebrations used to take place for 2 days.

The President of The Gambia, Adama Barrow, has extended his lead in results announced by the electoral umpire.

The election was contested by Mr Barrow and five other candidates.

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