Senegal is characterized by a long and deep culture of elections; people started voting in Senegal well before the country’s independence from France, and in fact they have voted since 1848. In 1848, only white and mixed-race citizens of the cities of Gorée and St. Louis had the right to vote, a privilege which was extended in 1871 to two other municipalities, Dakar and Rufisque. Suffrage was finally granted to all Senegalese citizens in various stages following the end of the second World War, starting in 1946.
Despite this strong electoral experience, the country still uses the system of multiple ballot bulletins during elections. In this system there is a separate paper ballot for each candidate or party in an election, and the elector must place the desired one to in an envelope before casting the vote. These ballots are reasonably designed, in different colors, so that even the least educated voters are in a position to adequately fulfill their civic duty the day of elections.
Nevetheless, there are concerns that the large number of ballots can discourage citizens if there is a plethora of candidates, as proved to be the case in the July 1, 2012 legislative elections. During those elections, the turnout was 36.67%, one of the lowest participation rates in the history of Senegalese elections, second only to the June 3, 2007 legislative elections (34.75%). To explain this situation, people point to the exceptionally large number of lists of candidates (24), and hence the number of ballots which the voter had to manipulate in order to cast a vote. Such a large number of candidates, unprecedented in the history of Senegal’s elections, may well have discouraged voters from taking part.
The use of a single ballot (listing all candidates and on which the voter can mark his or her choice), as recommended by the CENA (Autonomous National Electoral Committee) following the 2009 local elections, became a major bone of contention among Senegalese political leaders. The opposition parties at the time, who became the ruling coalition after the 2012 elections, argued that the use of a single ballot would result in significant reduction of the electoral budget, lower the risks of electoral fraud, and would make the voting process faster. The view was totally opposed by the presidential coalition of the time under the rule of President Abdoulaye Wade’s Senegalese Democratic Party, who argued that the Senegalese were not ready for the use of a single ballot. In the end, the introduction of the single ballot was not included in the new Electoral Code of January 2011; it remained the only issue on which the opposition and the government could not reach an agreement.