Following is a question by the Hon Audrey Eu Yuet-mee and a written reply by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Raymond Tam, in the Legislative Council today (December 14):
In the Report No. 47 of the Director of Audit (the Report) published in October 2006, the Audit Commission recommended the Registration and Electoral Office (REO) to explore the feasibility of requiring the applicants for voter registration or registered electors in doubtful cases to provide supporting evidence for verifying their residential addresses, and to consider verifying the residential addresses of registered electors recorded in the geographical constituencies final registers on a sampling basis. In response to the recommendations of the Report, the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) stated that as an established practice, REO will clarify with the applicants by phone or in writing if the addresses in their application forms for voter registration are incomplete or doubtful. Furthermore, regarding those cases of more than 10 electors registered under the same address which were passed to REO for further investigation as pointed out in the Report, CEO indicated that based on the information collected through checking the 2006 final register, making telephone enquiries, paying household visits and sending enquiry letters, REO did not detect any suspected illegal conduct, and the staff of REO had been vigilant in detecting any irregularities which appeared in voter registration forms. However, after the 2011 District Council Election, there have been extensive media reports on many suspected vote-rigging cases, including those cases involving several electors with different surnames registered under one particular address, incomplete or unspecific registered addresses, or electors who had used the addresses of residential buildings or floor levels in a building which do not exist, or of locations not for residential purposes (eg schools, warehouses and general post office boxes, etc) to register as their principal residence. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) of the respective numbers of cases where the registered addresses of electors were found to be incomplete or doubtful by REO through checking the final register, making telephone enquiries, paying household visits and sending enquiry letters in each year since 2007 (with a breakdown set out in table form); whether the Government has conducted in-depth investigations into such cases; if it has, of the results (with a breakdown of the number of cases investigated in each year by investigation result and set out in table form); and
(b) whether REO will undertake to review afresh the particulars of all registered electors before publishing the 2012 provisional register to identify doubtful cases including those cases involving incomplete or unspecific registered addresses, several electors with different surnames registered under one particular address, and electors who had used the addresses of residential buildings or floor levels in a building which do not exist, or of locations not for residential purposes (eg schools, warehouses and general post office boxes) to register as their principal residence, etc, and to proactively investigate and follow up such cases to verify the identities of suspicious electors and applicants?
(a) At present, the Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) examines the final register (FR) every year and identifies all the registered addresses with seven or more electors. Except for justified and verified cases such as elderly homes, the ERO will make telephone or written enquiries to the electors concerned requesting them to confirm their address records. If an elector confirms that he has already moved out of the address or the letter issued to him cannot be delivered, the ERO will include the elector in the inquiry process in the voter registration (VR) cycle. If the elector fails to provide such written confirmation or update his residential address before the deadline specified in the inquiry letter, his name will be put on the omissions list (OL) to be published in the VR cycle.
The number of addresses checked under the above measure since 2006-07 is at Annex.
According to the checking result of the above measure, the ERO did not identify any false declaration of the address, hence did not refer any case to the relevant law enforcement agencies for investigation.
(b) In the light of the recent public concerns that some electors may have made false declaration of their residential addresses, the Administration has conducted a review of the existing VR system, and has identified a number of possible measures to improve the existing VR system.
Firstly, we propose to introduce a requirement that address proofs should be provided as standard supporting evidence at the same time when a person applies for registration as a geographical constituency (GC) elector or when a registered elector applies for change in his residential address.
The Administration will need to lay down a standard as to what kind of address proofs would be accepted by the ERO, such as utility bills, and Government and bank correspondence issued within a certain period of time (say, the last three months).
Secondly, we will enhance the checking on voter registration. The ERO will improve the follow-up checks on undelivered poll cards by sending inquiry letters to the electors concerned by registered post to request for address proof after the electors have been contacted through telephone enquiries. If the inquiry letters cannot be delivered to the electors or the electors fails to provide the address proof before the deadline specified in the inquiry letter, their names will be included in the OL to be published in the VR cycle for public inspection.
On top of checking addresses with seven or more electors under the existing arrangements, the ERO will step up the checking based on additional parameters, such as when the number of surnames of electors in an address exceeds a certain figure. Random sampling checks on voter registration will also be performed and the ERO will require the electors in an address under checking to provide address proofs. Should there be any cases arising from these checking measures that the ERO considers to be suspicious, he will refer these cases to the law enforcement agencies without delay.
Under the existing arrangements, the checking mentioned in the previous paragraph is undertaken after the publication of the FR. To tighten control, there are merits in advancing these checks so that they can be completed before the publication of the FR. As a result, electors who have to be removed from the register could not vote at the elections following the publication of the FR. However, the statutory deadline for new registration and reporting change of addresses will need to be advanced to allow sufficient time for the ERO to complete the checking and the verification processes.
Thirdly, we will consider relevant legislative amendments. To keep the addresses in the FR up to date, we may consider legislative amendments to require registered electors to report change of registered addresses. However, since VR is voluntary and some registered electors may not report such changes if they do not plan to vote at elections, it may not be appropriate to impose sanction on them if they do not report change in registered addresses.
Another option is to introduce sanction under the electoral law for registered electors who fail to report change of addresses before the statutory deadline for reporting change of registered particulars and who vote in an election afterwards. This option can also help motivate electors to report change of addresses if they wish to vote in the election.
To complement the option mentioned in the previous paragraph and to allow time for the ERO to verify reports on change of registered addresses based on the address proofs, we will consider advancing the deadline for reporting change of addresses so that this exercise will precede that for new registrations.
Fourthly, we will enhance publicity. During election years, there will be territory-wide publicity campaigns promoting VR. With the assistance of the Independent Commission Against Corruption, the campaigns also feature messages relating to corrupt conducts in elections, which include voting at an election after having furnished the ERO with false information. The Administration will consider allocating more resources in disseminating such messages.
We also plan to send a letter to all electors in the FR early next year to appeal to them to update their residential addresses if there is any change and explain to them the new requirement on address proof. It will be complemented by other publicity measures such as Announcements in the Public Interests (APIs) and newspaper advertisements.
Furthermore, subject to the implementation of the suggestions mentioned above, the Administration will step up publicity measures as appropriate to promote public awareness of the new arrangements.
Fifthly, we will launch an additional measure, that the Registration and Electoral Office (REO) will liaise with the Buildings Department and the Rating and Valuation Department to conduct checking in the coming months on the list of buildings which have been demolished recently and buildings which will be demolished soon. This will help identify electors who may not have reported change in their addresses.
We will consult the Panel on Constitutional Affairs on December 19, 2011 on the details of the proposed improvement measures.
Ends/Wednesday, December 14, 2011