More than 4,800 complaints have been filed over Sunday’s district council elections as some candidates say they have received reports of fake voter registrations, with at least one claiming 100 such cases occurred at his constituency.
Access to the voters’ register has been restricted from public viewing under a court order sought by police and the justice department in October on grounds that officers and their family members risked being doxxed with the information.
The register contains names and addresses of all 4.13 million voters, and only about 1,100 candidates in the coming polls are allowed to view the final version.
Critics said the move had made it more difficult to detect election fraud.
One such malpractice is the submission of false information, such as names and addresses, in the voter registration process.
Under the current system, residents are not required to provide proof of their address when they first register as a voter.
The Registration and Electoral Office (REO), a government department that executes election arrangements on behalf of the Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC), said the commission had received more than 4,800 complaints on the polls thus far.
It did not say how many were related to false voter registration.
During the 2015 district council elections, 8,824 complaints were filed before and after the polls, including 27 over false voter registration claims.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption, the city’s graft-buster, said it received 37 complaints over “corrupt conduct with respect to voting at elections”, which covers voting with false information.
Since earlier this month, voters have been receiving election mail from the EAC, and some told the Post that they suspected their addresses were being misused for vote-rigging.
Some reported the irregularities to EAC.
Insurance worker Tsoi Hiu-man, 22, said she received election mail for a stranger addressed to her public housing flat in Kowloon East.
Such letters contain information about polling station addresses and opening hours, but voters are not required to present them before casting their ballot.
Tsoi, a voter in Lung Ha constituency, said the address on the letter raised suspicions.
“It is addressed to Room A of the flat, as if it is subdivided,” Tsoi said, adding there had been no partition inside her home for more than a decade.
Tsoi said it was possible that someone had registered as a voter using her address.
“I’m sure this is vote-rigging, and I do not want people to use my address in falsehood,” Tsoi said, adding that she had contacted the EAC but had not heard back.
I’m sure this is vote-rigging, and I do not want people to use my address in falsehood
Tsoi Hiu-man, Lung Ha constituency voter
A Sai Kung Islands voter, surnamed Lam, said she also received an election pamphlet and mail for a stranger. The 35-year-old freelancer said the name on the letters did not match her landlord’s, or that of the previous tenant.
Two other voters from South Horizon West and Lai To constituencies also said they received such mail.
The REO asked those who received suspicious election mail to provide information to the EAC to initiate a check. “If relevant voters fail to respond or review their registered addresses, their names will be deleted from the voter registry in the next cycle,” it said.
The office also added that it was illegal for people to vote using a false address.
Labour Party member Lloyd Chiu Yan-loy, who is making a second bid for a seat on the Tsuen Wan District Council, said he received more than 100 complaints from residents of Allway constituency alone.
Chiu, who also went through the voters’ register to look for suspected vote-rigging during the 2015 district council polls, said malicious parties could have changed tactics in “planting” voters into households.
Chiu said in the previous elections, he spotted one case where 11 people with seven different surnames were registered as voters from the same household.
This time, Chiu said he found one case of eight people with three different surnames having the same address.
“I believe their method has changed,” Chiu said.
In the past, voters could be “planted” in households willing to assist in the rigging, he claimed.
For the coming polls, Chiu said he was notified of more cases of people receiving mail that did not belong to their households, suggesting that addresses were being used without the residents’ knowledge or consent. He said the suspicious mail had been submitted to EAC.
Chiu will be running against incumbent district councillor Lam Yuen-pun, a pro-government candidate.
Chris Yeung, chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, said the injunction had impeded media from checking for suspected vote-rigging as they could not review the information on the register.
The association has launched a judicial review application against the ban.
“It is a matter of principle – in the past there was public access [to the registry] and voters have the need to review their information,” Yeung said.
It is a matter of principle – in the past there was public access [to the registry] and voters have the need to review their information
Chris Yeung, HKJA
Chinese University political scientist Ma Ngok, a long-time election watcher, said vote-rigging was now harder to spot.
“Only candidates can detect suspected vote-rigging cases, but that may be limited to obvious ones,” Ma said, asking election authorities to conduct random checks on voter registration. But he conceded that the deterrence for vote-rigging might be limited. Vote-rigging has not been known to undermine the legitimacy of the district council polls, but it is a recurring concern. In the 2011 elections, seven people were convicted and sent to jail for two months for vote-rigging.
Lingnan University political scientist Samson Yuen Wai-hei said it was hard to gauge how rampant vote-rigging was given the lack of data and the current lack of access to the voters’ register, but added that public monitoring might help quash such conduct.