“Does a candidate have the right to stay in his election district if he has already voted?”
This is one of the thousands of voter questions fielded by the Georgian Central Election Commission’s (CEC) special pre-election telephone hotline.
As of 5 October more than 2.500 Georgian residents had called 42-42-42 to get information about the upcoming local self-governance elections and on Election Day forty operators were standing by to answer questions. The service was free for all regions of Georgia and has 15 lines available.
The hotline started worked on 7 August and the CEC was prepared to receive up to 2.000 calls per day, as hotline operators were on duty 20 hours each day. The day before, and the day of the election the hotline was operating around the clock.
All of the operators were Russian speakers, while four interpreters fluent in Armenian and Azeri worked at the hotline to serve Georgia’s ethnic minorities and four lawyers were available to help people with legal questions.
If a voter called in with a particularly confusing question, hotline operators would call to the CEC’s legal department to try to get an answer.
Misha Khetsuriani, the hotline’s manager, explained that the main criteria for being a hotline operator were knowledge of the Russian language and computer skills. All hotline workers were between 19-45 years old and their salary was GEL 300 per month.
Karen Grigoryan, 19, worked as a translator for Georgia’s Armenian minority. He says that about 10 Armenian people called everyday, especially from the Javakheti region. He said that the most common question was “Is my name on the voter list?” The majority of complaints, according to Grigoryan, were from voters who had not yet received their voter cards.
Hotline operator Tamara Tabatadze, 24, remembers that at when the hotline was first set up, the ethnic Georgian operators had trouble distinguishing between Armenian and Azeri languages and were sometimes confused about which interpreter they should give the telephone to.
The operators also fielded numerous questions about subjects that had nothing to do with the elections. “Our service started just before the national exams so lots of people thought that we were a hotline for questions about that. Very often people call and ask about things like electricity and garbage problems, but we explain to them who we are and give them the correct phone number to call,” Tabatadze commented. Tabatadze also said that sometimes lonely pensioners who have a lot of free time and no one to talk to would call up just to have a conversation.
The hotline served Georgian voters – and many others – until 6 October.