Afghans headed to the polls on Thursday amidst fears of violent attacks from Islamist Taliban forces — who have labelled the process a “program of the crusaders” — and allegations of election fraud. The election is only the second since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, and its success is critical to U.S. hopes for democratic progress in the country.

Peaceful start to election. Afghanistan’s historic election proceeded with unexpected smoothness and order Thursday despite threats by the radical Islamist Taliban movement to disrupt it. There were reports of scattered violence, and turnout appeared to be relatively low in the capital and in southern provinces with a strong Taliban presence, but Afghan and foreign officials said a feared disaster had been averted. — Pamela Constable and Joshua Partlow, The Washington Post

Afghans defy militant threats to vote in “critical” election. The polls closed at 5pm in Afghanistan, and the vote-counting began immediately. Despite the apparently low turnout in the south and complaints from some candidates about fraud, Afghan and American officials were quick to congratulate Afghans for voting despite the violence. — Carlotta Gall and Stephen Farrell, The New York Times

Taliban violence scares voters away. The Taliban’s campaign of violence to disrupt today’s crucial presidential elections in Afghanistan appeared to have succeeded in discouraging voter turnout in the militant south, undermining western hopes that Afghans could be persuaded to accept as legitimate an election already widely criticised for its shortcomings. — Jon Boone and Peter Beaumont, The Guardian

Election marred by violence, fraud. Journalists in Helmand, Kandahar, Farah, Ghazni, Logar, and Wardak have all reported minimal turnout and escalating violence. But security forces and government officials have insisted that the situation is fine and the ballot is proceeding normally. — Jean MacKenzie, GlobalPost

Taliban intimidation “worked”. For a better picture of the state of the Afghanistan election, I called Akbar Ayazi, the director of Radio Free Afghanistan, a project of the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. According to Ayazi, contrasting with what’s been going out over Twitter, reports of fraud are “minor” so far, but Taliban intimidation has been heavy. — Spencer Ackerman, The Washington Independent

Afghanistan elections: a “facade of democracy”? Like millions of Afghans, I have no hope in the results of this week’s election. In a country ruled by warlords, occupation forces, Taliban insurgency, drug money and guns, no one can expect a legitimate or fair vote. — Malalai Joya, AlterNet

The problem of the Afghan state. But the trouble — gleanable from past elections — is that a single day’s worth of security, even if achieved, is not the same as providing security to the population on a sustained basis. Similarly, even if Karzai manages to secure re-election in a free and fair manner, the result will say more about the divided nature of the opposition than about the Afghan president’s own level of popular support. — Matthew Yglesias, The American Prospect

How to vote graphic novel. “Your Voice. Your Vote. A 25-page manual designed for instructors teaching adult learners about issues, candidates, and appraisal of elected officials’ performance.” — BoingBoing