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How to Party at a Polling Station

In US elections, very little is reported about the inner workings of polling stations, though in some other countries, such as ex-Soviet Georgia, that’s where all the fun and drama happens. Here, media coverage of voting imparts many curious facts -- for instance, which polling-station official has a good singing voice, who could use anger-management therapy, and, also, why tangerines are bad for democracy. 
 
In the November 8 US presidential vote, humans and machines toiled through the night, tallying and testing ballots, but as far as the lay man is concerned, all these labors have been abridged into infographics, maps and charts. In Georgia, where there is far less trust in the electoral process, polling stations were closely watched during the October parliamentary elections for funny business and funny matters.
 
The result led to the birth of a few stars.
 
In perhaps the most unlikely scenario for an election, one middle-aged polling-station worker decided to put her soprano voice to good use and broke into song during voting at a station on the outskirts of the capital, Tbilisi. “I love you tonight,” she crooned in English, captivating both the rest of the election commission and, later on, internet users, by her rendition of the dolorous theme song from Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 take on “Romeo and Juliet.” 
 
This was during the October 31 runoff-vote for Georgia’s parliamentary election. Three weeks earlier, during the first round of voting, a dance party broke out at a polling station in Jorjiashvili, a village an hour’s drive southwest of Tbilisi.
 
One commission member hit the piano, blasting a lively traditional dance tune. Without much hesitation, another commission member, a stout-looking woman, hopped into a dance while other station workers started clapping to the music. A middle-aged voter entered and immediately joined in,  roughly approximating a few Georgian dance steps despite his heavy physique.
 
Not all polling-station representatives are always so carefree, however. Tsitso Abuashvili, chairperson of a polling station in the town of Kaspi, became a national internet sensation in 2012 after she was caught on camera kicking reporters out of her station for allegedly not having accreditation. “I will punch your face in!” she warned, pushing the protesting reporters out.
 
Capitalizing on her fame, Abuashvili ran for parliament in this year’s election as a candidate for the opposition United National Movement party. She lost, and her party finished a distant second.    
 
This year round, not only election officials had their moments of fame. Some voters went out of their way to make the vote a memorable moment in Georgia’s short democratic history. One man in the western region of Samegrelo galloped to the polls on a horse, waving the flag of the Georgian Dream, the incumbent ruling party that eventually prevailed at the polls.  
 
Some chose the vote to communicate their personal wishes. “Bring Metallica [to Georgia],” one voter wrote on a ballot, adding in a few expletives to ram the message home. Another reportedly ignored all the candidates on the ballot and cast his vote for a medieval king, David the Builder.
 
Voters in Georgia have their fingers inked to avoid repeat voting -- as one comic wit said “an election is the only time in Georgia when the population reproduces without sexual acts being involved” -- and that has led to some peculiar revelations.
 
One voter in the parliamentary seat of Kutaisi became the victim of national ridicule after residue from the phosphoric dye applied in the election’s first round was detected on his finger for the second round as well; suggesting, apart from possible voter fraud, that he had not bothered with personal hygiene for the past three weeks. 
 
In the subtropical western region of Achara, though, one polling station’s workers could not distinguish between the phosphoric ink and stains from peeling tangerines, the region’s top agricultural crop. Voters were asked to wash their hands.
 
“The only difference [between the two] is that the tangerine splatter can be washed off immediately,” Irma Seperteladze, member of an election commission in Batumi, the region’s seat, claimed to Georgian Public Television. “It is tangerine harvest season and everyone has got tangerines in their hands these days,” she said.      
 
Perhaps Georgia’s approach to the elections warrants a whole new branch of election analysis.
 

How to Party at a Polling Station

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