How to vote in Burundi

For those who don’t vote in the US because they think it’s too time-consuming, too complicated or too confusing, consider the voting process in the African nation of Burundi.

Burundi, for the Africa-map-challenged, like me, is landlocked country. It’s that little red dot on the map between Rwanda to the north, Tanzania to the east and southeast, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west. Lake Tanganyika lies along its southwestern border. Its capital cities are Bjumbura ( the political capital) and Gitega (the economic capital). Burund’s population is about 11 million. The country’s literacy rate is 68 percent. It operates politically as a constitutional republic with a bi-cameral parliamentary structure. Currently, 24 different political parties hold seats or are vying for them.

And that’s where the complexity sets in. According to the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa [EISA], in parliamentary elections, each valid voter is given 24 ballots – each bearing the name and symbol of a different party – and two envelopes. In the polling booth, the voter puts her chosen ballot paper in the white envelope, and the rest into the black one. Exiting the booth, voters then put the white envelope with their chosen ballot paper into one box for votes cast, and the black envelope into another box, before having their thumbs marked with indelible ink so they can’t vote again. The number of black envelopes containing useless ballot papers (at any given polling station) have to match with the number of white envelopes to avoid cheating.

I have now read that description about a dozen times, and I think I’m beginning to understand it. But still, I’m glad I’m not a first-time voter in Burundi.

Burundi is slated to hold a presidential election on May 20. 2020. With six candidates vying for the job, voting will presumably be somewhat simpler than the complicated routine of parliamentary elections, and the current ruling party is expected, by knowledgeable observers, to win the day. Notably, other African nations have postponed their national elections due to the coronavirus pandemic, but as of this writing, Burundi is moving ahead.