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At some Afghan polling places, Karzai got every vote

KABUL, Afghanistan — Detailed polling records released by an Afghanistan election commission reveal numerous polling places in Kandahar Province where all the votes were delivered to a single candidate — incumbent President Hamid Karzai.

The records bolster the case of ballot-box stuffing during the Aug. 20 election to pick a new president to lead Afghanistan, which is now struggling against an increasingly powerful Taliban insurgency.

In Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan, the results from 66 polling sites have been released. In nine of them, 100 percent of the votes went to Karzai.

Also in Kandahar Province, an area that was a target of insurgent attacks to try to suppress the vote, there were six polling places that had more than 100 percent of the estimated registered voters reportedly turn out. At one location, the turn out was nearly a third high than the number of voters registered.

"It is state organized fraud," said Karzai's main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, a former minister in Karzai's government, on Saturday.

Since the election, Abdullah has repeatedly called press conferences to allege misconduct in a flawed election. On Saturday, he invited reporters to a courtyard at his Kabul home. There, campaign workers installed a giant computer screen linked to the Internet records of the polling places, and Abdullah spent more than an hour in a public examination of some of the questionable polling results.

At one point, he read the voting tallies at six polling sites where Karzai received almost all the votes and where all the totals were rounded numbers ranging between 250 and 350. "They should have set these aside," Abdullah said.

The fraud allegations have created a tangled aftermath to the August election. The Obama Administration had hoped the election would strengthen the Afghan people's faith in a government set up in the aftermath of the 2001 U.S. invasion that overthrew the Taliban.

But the election process could drag on for many weeks as more than 600 high-priority allegations of ballot-box stuffing, voter intimidation and other misconduct are investigated by the Afghanistan Electoral Complaints Commission.

As of Saturday, the results from about 60 percent of Afghanistan's polling places had been announced. Karzai has more than 47 percent of the vote compared to 33 percent for Abdullah. But as of Saturday, Karzai was still shy of the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff.

Karzai campaign officials have repeatedly rejected allegations that the president has encouraged any organized effort to tilt the election.

Election commission officials also have been attacked by Abdullah for tallying - rather than opting to set aside - some of the disputed votes. "They were supposed to announced the clean results. It's not clean at all," Abdullah said.

But commission officials say that they are carefully reviewing the polling results, and have excluded large numbers of votes for possible irregularities.

"The allegations of Abdullah are not true, and we reject them," said Noor Mohammad Noor, a spokesman for Afghanistan's Independent Election Campaign.

Noor said that the commission had carefully considered which results to include the tally, and that a commission team was investigating fraud allegations. An updated tally of votes is scheduled to be released Sunday.

Some polling sites in the north that voted in favor of Abdullah also are coming under scrutiny, and Abdullah has acknowledged that some of his supporters might have been involved in altering vote counts.

Some of the biggest voting controversies have flared in southern Afghanistan, where Karzai has deep roots but where Abdullah enlisted the support of some tribal leaders.

The Kandahar voting records so far released by the commission cover less than 22 percent of the province's polling places.

Nonetheless, Abdullah cited numerous instances of suspicious voting results.

The polling place called Zherai Awal Camp, for example, has an estimated 2,100 voters who were eligible to cast ballots for president. On election day, the polling place reported nearly 2,300 voters showed up, and every one who voted cast ballots for Karzai.

At three polling sites at the Shorabak District of Kandahar, 11,210 votes were tallied, and 99 percent went to Karzai.

Seattle Times Reporter Justin Mayo and McClatchy Special Correspondent Hashim Shukoor contributed to this report. Bernton reports for The Seattle Times.

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