Charleston, W.Va. - If there is one thing that Jackie Harris says she will remember from her second trip to Afghanistan, its that the hope for democracy is still alive.
Harris, an Elections Specialist with the West Virginia Secretary of State's Office, spent 13 days there in September observing the elections for the Wolesi Jirga, the lower house of the Afghan parliament.
She traveled with a delegation from Democracy International (DI) and no West Virginia taxpayer money funded the trip.
Harris first flew in to Dubai, the sparkling city in the United Arab Emirates. From there, it was a two hour plane ride to Kabul, Afghanistan.
"I have a friend who has made this trip before and he says it's two hours on a plane but you're going back 400 years in history," Harris said. "Kabul is a huge city with about four million people by lightest estimates. And just like every other big city you can get all kinds of food there - Mexican, Asian, and even fried chicken. But we were always in a secure area; we didn't have much opportunity to see the city."
After briefings about the Afghan election process, Harris and other members of the DI delegation were sent to provinces around the country. Harris was sent to Bamyan province, in central Afghanistan.
"Bamyan is the only one of the 34 provinces that has a female governor," Harris says. "It is very progressive there and one of the most peaceful."
In Afghanistan, men and women vote in separate locations - or at least in separate rooms in the same polling location. The polling locations had the same basic features as ones in the United States: ballot booths, a ballot box, and poll workers.
"The training of the poll workers was impressive," Harris said. "Here, you can just ask a poll worker to log onto the internet and watch a video. There is no way to do that in Afghanistan. They train poll workers who then go out into the provinces and train more poll workers. And from what I saw the poll workers were truly trying to administer a fair election."
Harris, who has been an elections administrator for more than 20 years, says she was struck by the enthusiasm of the youngest and oldest voters in Afghanistan.
"I don't know that that doesn't necessarily play out everywhere," Harris said. "And that was one thing I tried to bring to the table. Whenever there was a problem, I would ask if that's a problem because this is Afghanistan or is that a problem everywhere."
"For the basics, they're getting the basics down. It's going to be a slow process, and I think everyone has to be respectful of that slow process. There's still a lot of hope alive there. And I think the United States can have some hope. It's struggling, but I think there are people inside that country that want to make it work, and I wish them all the best."