Charleston, W.Va. – The first time Jackie Harris traveled to Afghanistan she didn’t know what sort of reception she would receive from elections officials, where she would be staying, or even what to pack.
The plans for this upcoming trip aren’t as up in the air, but the Elections Specialist with the Secretary
of State’s Office at least now knows some basic expressions like “Hello,” “Thank you,” and “Good bye.”
Harris is traveling with an international delegation from Democracy International (DI) to Kabul on September 10 to observe elections for the Wolesi Jirga, the lower house of the Afghan Parliament. She will be joined by elections specialists from 18 countries, including France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, and the United Kingdom. The Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan invited the DI observation delegation.
The trip is sponsored by DI, and no West Virginia taxpayer money is being used to fund the observation mission. According to a DI press release, nine teams of long term observers (LTOs) have been deployed across Afghanistan. They will interview electoral officers, candidates, and voters and will follow the election preparations, campaigns, and appeals process. About 50 additional observers, including Harris, will join the LTOs next week to observe all phases of Election Day. The mission will issue a final report after the announcement of final results. Election Day in Afghanistan is September 18.
Harris said she isn’t sure where in Afghanistan she will be deployed, if it will be locally in Kabul or to one of the outlying provinces.
“I’ve been working with elections for more than 20 years,” Harris said. “Trips like this allow me to use my practical experience to help emerging democracies around the world. Our role is to observe the elections, not to interfere. When we come back, we will share our observations with stakeholders to improve the elections process in Afghanistan.”
West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant said this kind of global perspective is invaluable when it comes to ensuring fair and open elections here at home.
“This office has shown that we aren’t going to limit our horizons in any way,” Tennant said. “This is Jackie’s second trip to Afghanistan, and I have traveled to Germany, India, and China to talk about West Virginia election law. In the end it’s the voters of West Virginia who benefit, because the election officials have a greater breadth of knowledge from which to draw.”
For more information on Democracy International, visit their website at www.democracyinternational.com