Despite Taliban threats of violence on Election Day, record numbers of Afghan women and men turned out to vote in the Afghan parliamentary elections on October 20th and 21st.
In total, some 45% of Afghan registered voters cast a ballot including at least 33% of Afghan women voters. In some areas almost 50% of the voters were women, such as the Jauzjan province, where women were 53% of the voters according to the Independent Election Commission (IEC) of Afghanistan. At many of the 4649 polling sites, voters experienced long lines.
Preliminary election results will not be release until November 6th and the IEC has until December 20 to release final results. All voting was by paper balloting to prevent or reduce corruption and technical problems. There are 400 employees of the IEC including 130 women overseeing the counting of the ballots. German-made biometric machines, however, were used to prevent ballot box-stuffing. Working like a smart phone, the biometric machine matched a voter’s photo and fingerprints to their voter cards. The biometric devices were delivered late and caused delays in voting at many polling sites. But the hope is this high tech machinery plus a paper trail will reduce or even end disputes about the election results.
Threats turned into real violence with at least 78 Afghans killed on Election Day in some of the 250 attacks carried out by the Taliban and ISIS. At least 10 candidates were killed nationwide by the Taliban armed groups during or before the election period.
Despite the violence and threats of violence Afghans voted in all but two of its 34 provinces and in all but 11 of the districts within the provinces. Elections were only cancelled in Ghazni province and in Kandahar voting was postponed for one week because of violence. But in some other provinces, like Herat, Election Day was peaceful.
A record number of candidates, more than 2500, including 217 women, ran for the 249 seats in the lower House. Many of these candidates were young and educated, in addition to the high number of women candidates that ran for the Afghan parliament. The expectation is that the newly elected parliament will be younger, more educated and comprised of more women than ever before.
To put the Afghan voting numbers in perspective only about 40% of registered voters on average cast a ballot in U.S. midterm elections and only about 14% of U.S. registered voters voted in the 2014 midterm primaries. In 2018, with the highest level of voting in more than two decades, only about 20% of Americans voted in the midterm primaries.
Please read the accompanying blog by a courageous young Afghan woman, who is a member of Free Women Writers, on why voting for the first time was so important for her.
Media Resources: Associated Press (Kathy Gannon) October 19, 2018: PBS News Hour; TOLO News October 21, 2018; Pew Research Center (US Statistics); FairVote (US Statistics); NY Times October 20, 2018; TOLO News October 23, 2018