MADELEINE BRAND, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Madeleine Brand.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
Afghanistan's presidential and provincial elections are a little more than three weeks away. And election workers are in a frenzy trying to get polling stations up and running. Some 35 million ballots are being shipped by plane, truck - even donkey - to warehouses in the provinces. There, they'll stay under lock and key until Afghan and Western security forces, now battling the Taliban, give local election workers the thumbs up. But as NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson discovered in Kabul, not every Afghan who wants to vote will be able to.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: In a noisy warehouse shaped like an airplane hangar, Afghan elections workers roll a pallet stacked with blue plastic bins over to a row of tables.
(Soundbite of pallet rolling)
NELSON: Other workers then stuff ballots into the bins. They are locked with metal seals, each labeled with a number the workers mark on a computer-generated list. Their goal is to prevent fraud. If the seals are tampered with along the difficult journey from election headquarters here in Kabul to the 34 provinces, poll workers will know, says logistics supervisor Asmatullah Shahrani.
Mr. ASMATULLAH SHAHRANI (Logistics Supervisor): We are starting our work from 8 morning up to 8 evening.
NELSON: So it's hard work.
Mr. SHAHRANI: Yeah, yeah, it's hard work though, but we must do it. It will become a good election I think.
NELSON: That's certainly what Afghan and Western officials are hoping. Daoud Najafi is Afghanistan's chief elections officer. He says he is determined to stay on schedule so that citizens across his country can vote on August 20th.
Mr. DAOUD NAJAFI (Chief Elections Officer, Afghanistan): If you are not happy with the current government, the election is the only way that you can bring change peacefully.
NELSON: But Kai Eide, who is the U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan, says gearing up for an election in a war-torn country where most voters live in remote villages is tough.
(Soundbite of Afghan Jingle Trucks)
NELSON: Many ballots are taken there by traditional Afghan jingle trucks like this one, adorned with metal chains that sound like wind chimes.
(Soundbite of Afghan Jingle Trucks)
NELSON: Eide says that more than 3,000 donkeys will also carry ballots to some of the more isolated regions, in treks lasting as long as a week.
Mr. KAI EIDE (Special Envoy to Afghanistan, United Nations): These are the most complicated elections I have seen.
NELSON: It's not only complicated, but dangerous. A campaign worker for President Hamid Karzai's main opponent was shot dead today by an unknown gunman, east of Kabul. Privately, some U.N. officials predict voter turnout will be lower than hoped, especially in areas with many Taliban fighters. John Dempsey heads the Kabul office of the U.S. Institute of Peace.
Mr. JOHN DEMPSEY (Head, U.S. Institute of Peace, Kabul): They could certainly try to destabilize certain areas and try to intimidate people into not voting. And making these types of threats may in fact lead people to say, forget it. I'm not going to walk to a polling station that day. Why - I mean that's craziness.
NELSON: Reports of a government-brokered ceasefire in the northwestern province of Badghis over the weekend were quickly dashed when Taliban fighters and Afghan police got into a firefight there. Najafi, the top election official, says residents of at least eight districts in Afghanistan will not be able to vote in their areas because of the danger. Most of those districts are in the south, although one is less than an hour's drive west of Kabul.
Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Kabul.
SIEGEL: And you can see a photo gallery of Afghan candidates on the campaign trail, and explore a special series on U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan, at the new npr.org.
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