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The most common voting method uses paper ballots on which voters mark their preferences. This may involve marking their support for a candidate or party listed on the ballot, or a write-in, where they write out the name of their preferred candidate if it is not listed.
An alternative paper-based system known as ballot letters is used in Israel, where polling booths contain a tray with ballots for each party contesting the elections; the ballots are marked with the letter(s) assigned to that party. Voters are given an envelope into which they put the ballot of the party they wish to vote for, before placing the envelope in the ballot box.
Maching voting uses voting machines, which may be manual (e.g. lever machines) or electronic. In Brazil, voters type in the name of the candidate they wish to vote for and then confirm their vote when the candidate's photo is displayed on screen.
Many countries allow postal voting, where voters are sent a ballot and return it by post.
In contrast to a secret ballot, an open ballot takes place in public and is commonly done by a show of hands. An example is the Landsgemeinde system in Switzerland, which is still in use in the cantons of Appenzell Innerrhoden, Glarus, Grisons and Schwyz.
In Gambia voting is carried out using marbles, a method introduced in 1965 to deal with illiteracy. Polling stations contain metal drums painted in party colours and emblems with candidates' photos attached to them. Voters are given a marble to place in the drum of their chosen candidate; when dropped into the drum, a bell sounds to register the vote. As a result, bicycles are banned near polling booths on election day. If the marble is left on top of the drum rather than placed on it, the vote is deemed invalid.
A similar system used in social clubs sees voters given a white ball to indicate support and a black ball to indicate opposition. This led to the coining of the term blackballing.
- Illiterate voters: Making their mark The Economist, 5 April 2014
- Voting methods in Estonia: Statistics about Internet Voting in Estonia VVK
- Gambians vote with their marbles BBC News, 22 September 2006
- Gambia vote a roll of the marbles The Telegrapgh, 29 November 2016
- Gambia election: Voters use marbles to choose president BBC News, 30 November 2016