The Gambia: Gambians vote with the marble as ballot
Gambians vote with the marble as ballot
It would be any schoolboy's dream: hundreds of thousands of clinking glass marbles at the ready for a high-stakes contest.
But this is no game, it is Gambia's presidential poll and the marble is the ballot.
As in all countries, aspirant leaders take care to keep voters loyal, but in the smallest state on the African mainland, losing support could literally see you losing your marbles.
The stern director of electoral operations, Sambousang Njie, points out that his country's unique voting system is no laughing matter, but a way to enable illiterate voters to participate in democracy, while cutting costs.
"Our system of voting is very unique in the sense that we don't use the ballot paper and the ballot box, instead we use the ballot drum and the marble," Njie explains on the eve of the election.
"This kind of voting is somehow economical ... you can use the ballot drum and ballot token over and over again, it is not possible to do ballot stuffing."
Gambia's three presidential candidates each get a metal drum painted in a specific colour, with their photograph and symbol pasted on it.
President Yahya Jammeh, 46, who is tipped to win a fourth term in office since taking power in a bloodless 1994 coup, is pictured on a deep green drum in his white flowing robes which enhance his carefully woven mystical image.
Main challenger Ousainou Darboe, 63, has a yellow drum and the symbol of a handshake, while Hamat Bah, 51, is pictured on a sky-blue drum with a symbol of a cow.
Voters are each handed a glass marble and retreat into an enclosed space where they are faced with the three drums, once they choose their candidate they slip the token into a small hole.
Polling officials will listen carefully for the clang of a bicycle bell which is attached to the end of a tube inside the drum, preventing people from voting more than once.
Sawdust or sand is sprinkled on the bottom of the barrel so that no second sound is heard.
To further prevent confusion, "bicycles are not allowed within 500m of the polling station," Njie says.
Counting is snappy as marbles are poured into a wooden tray with 200 or 500 holes.
Poor nations often have to turn to aid partners to help them fund elections which run into millions of dollars with ballot papers having to be printed and flown in, but Gambia has used the same marbles since 2006 elections.
Njie refuses to say how many marbles are kept and where they come from for security reasons, however Taiwan was widely reported as having donated 1.5 million marbles in 2002.
A sliver of land wedged into Senegal, Gambia has 1.7 million citizens but only 800,000 are eligible to vote.
More than half of the country is illiterate, according to the United Nations.
The system may be good for the environment and lead to fewer spoiled votes, but it is not without challenges.
"I would like to appeal to the voters that they should desist from tampering with the pictures and symbols of the candidates pasted on the ballot drums," polls chief Mustapha Carayol said Wednesday.
"They should also desist from sealing the drums using chewing gum."
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