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Afghan Voters Undaunted by Complex Ballots

Voters outside Afghanistan's capital Kabul are steadily casting ballots at polling stations, choosing from thousands of candidates in what can be a confusing process. VOA's Patricia Nunan visited polling stations in Logar Province where she met with election staffers and voters.

Election workers separate two blank ballots for a voter and direct him behind a cardboard partition where he can examine the candidate lists in private.

In Puli Alam, the capital of Logar Province, there are about 60 candidates on the ballot for Afghanistan's 249-member parliament, and another 60 on the ballot for the provincial council.

But in more densely populated districts like Kabul, each ballot is several pages long and resembles a tabloid newspaper - giving rise to fears that voters, especially illiterate ones, would have a hard time finding the right candidate to pick.

Puli Alam Polling station worker Hayat Tollah says says most voters here can find their favorite candidate by themselves. But if they need, staff can give them special instructions before they go behind the partition to choose the candidate.

Logar Province was known for fierce fighting during the long years of Afghanistan's civil war. Along the highway, farmers still use donkeys to transport corn and other crops to market. In spots, formations of stones warn people that the area probably contains landmines.

Many polling stations have been set up in local schools, and are separated into sections for men and women voters.

Women arrive at the polling stations dressed in burkhas, which they quickly remove once inside. Sixty-eight seats in the parliament have been reserved for women.

In Puli Alam, this woman came to vote shortly after polls opened at 6 a.m. She says she is delighted to have women candidates so, as she puts it, "our sisters will work along with our brothers" to develop Afghanistan.

Some observers have questioned whether Afghanistan, where half of all men and 80-percent of women are illiterate, is ready for modern parliamentary democracy. Even while making campaign promises, candidates have warned that few voters understand fully what a parliament is meant to do.

At the polling stations in Puli Alam, there was no such concern.

Asked whether he believed parliamentarians would improve Afghans' lives, 70-year-old Mohammed Assef had a straightforward response.

He says, "I only believe the one I voted for can make a difference."

There are nearly 6,000 candidates vying for positions in the parliament and 34 provincial councils - the first such elections in more than 30 years. Provisional results are not expected until next month.