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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The pros and cons of migrating from marble to paper ballot

If the Independent Electoral Commission has its way, The Gambia for first time in 60 years of elections, will use a paper ballot in the 2021 presidential election and in subsequent elections. The IEC of course said it has consensus among stakeholders on this matter and once the drafters at the Ministry of Justice are ready, the 2020 Election Bill, which contains the new format of voting, will be tabled at the National Assembly. Proponents of the paper ballot, among them the IEC, have argued that the proliferation of political parties, currently about 16 and counting, could mean that 16 or more presidential candidates could have their names in the ballot, which means using the current marble system, 16 ballot boxes or more will have to be placed at each of the country’s 1442 polling stations. Even by today’s machine age, this is perhaps understandably, a monumental logistical nightmare that they believed can be eradicated by introducing the ballot paper where only one big box will be needed at each of the polling stations.

However, the new idea, the ballot paper system too, has its own critics. Is the literacy level in The Gambia good enough for the majority of the people to understand how to recognize and tick the photo or party symbol of the candidate of their choice among others printed on a single sheet of paper? Where will the ballot papers be printed and who will be in charge of their custody to the trust and satisfaction of all? Is there any guarantee that they could not be counterfeited? Again, the IEC and people with the same school of thought assured that all ballot papers will be serially numbered and party agents would be present or involved in the printing, transportation and storage of the papers just like how all the process of the marble system is monitored by all stakeholders.

In between the proponents of these two systems, are the silent majority who believed that it’s way too soon to introduce the ballot paper with just a little over a year to go before the 2021 presidential election.

To this group of citizens, to which we subscribe, if it could take the IEC almost a year to organise a mere by-election in Niamina, supposedly because of Covid-19, how can they guarantee that they could, to any degree of success, conduct a nation-wide voter education thoroughly enough to get everyone understand the new voting system? The ball is now in the court of the National Assembly to make sense of it and we hope they make real sense of the matter.

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