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Afghans Turn Out in Droves for Historic Elections

Sayed Khodaberdi Sadat/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- Afghans headed to the polls in droves Saturday in elections that are expected to lead to the nation's first transfer of power between democratically-elected governments, despite calls for violence by the Taliban and a massive show of force by Afghanistan's security forces.

More than 350,000 soldiers and police guarded polling places in Afghanistan's presidential and provincial elections as Afghans fanned out across the country to cast their ballots.

All indications are that Saturday's turnout will be historic. So many people showed up to some polling places that they ran out of ballots; Afghanistan's election commission also extended voting by an hour as 200,000 observers were expected to monitor voting. According to ABC News' Muhammad Lila and Aleem Agha, who are in Kabul, voters dipped a finger in ink to show that they've voted – and to prevent people from casting more than one ballot.

It's the first time since the fall of the Taliban that Afghanistan President Muhammad Karzai's name hasn't appeared on the ballot. Eight candidates are competing to replace him.

There has been far less violence Saturday than had been expected. No major attacks took place in the country’s big cities, although there were a handful of skirmishes and firefights in restive areas.

After votes are cast, the individually bar-coded ballots will be counted at each polling station and then sent to Kabul where they’ll be counted again.

After the count there will be a period for people to submit complaints, and a resolution process that follows.  The winner has to get 50 percent or more of the vote. If that doesn’t happen in the first round, it goes to a second round. It may be weeks before a winner is declared.

Ballots were running low at some polling stations, where there were larger-than-expected turnouts. Kids flooded the empty streets to play sports, while some even joined their parents.

Fears of fraud remained high, though. Some of the candidates, particularly Dr. Abdullah who lost to Karzai in 2009, have been warning of large-scale fraud.

There will likely be accusations of vote-rigging, which can delay the results process even further. It means the vote certification process will become just as important as the election itself.

There are few American observers left in the country, but one of the last observers, Glenn Cowan, said that the vote is pivotal towards defining Afghanistan's future.

"The future of Afghanistan can go in two courses: It can plunge back into the era of the Taliban and into a darkness that afflicted the population of this country, or it can go forward in a progressive way," Cowan said. "A progressive Afghanistan leads to stability in South Asia."

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