Following is a question by the Hon Ronny Tong Ka-wah and a reply by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Raymond Tam, in the Legislative Council today (December 21):
It has been reported that there were a number of cases of suspected vote-rigging and irregularities in the 2011 Election Committee Subsector (ECSS) Elections. For example, people who used to be members of a subsector continue to receive poll cards of that subsector even though they are no longer eligible to be registered as voters for that subsector after changing jobs. Moreover, among those who were elected uncontested, some members of the agriculture and fisheries subsector are engaged in occupations which are unrelated to the agriculture and fisheries industry. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) whether the Electoral Affairs Commission had verified and updated the registers of ECSS voters in accordance with the requirements in the law before sending out the poll cards for this year's ECSS Elections; if it had not, of the reasons for that; if it had, the methods employed to verify the eligibility of the voters, together with a table listing the number of voters who were disqualified in each subsectors, the reasons for their disqualification, the number of voters in each subsectors in the ECSS Elections in 2006 and this year, as well as the difference in the number of voters between 2006 and this year;
(b) whether it has assessed if people engaged in occupations which are unrelated to the agriculture and fisheries industry being elected as members of that subsector has contravened electoral law; if the assessment findings are negative, of the reasons for that; and
(c) whether the authorities have made reference to overseas examples in studying and reviewing ways to improve the electoral and verification systems so as to ensure that the Legislative Council Election to be held next year will really achieve the objectives of fairness, openness and being free from corruption; if they have, of the overseas examples to which they have made reference, and the details of those electoral and verification systems?
Regarding the three parts of the question, my response is as follows:
(a) 2011 is an ECSS Elections year. Following past practices, the Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) sent letters to all the umbrella organisations of the subsectors a few months before the voter registration deadline in the year. The letters requested each of the umbrella organisations to provide, within one to two months, a list of their members who are eligible for registration as voters of the respective subsectors according to the requirements in the electoral legislation.
The ERO compared and checked the lists provided by the umbrella organisations against the current register of voters. The ERO sent written inquiries to those who were no longer members of the organisations and hence might no longer be eligible for registration as voters of the relevant subsectors. The written inquiries were sent by registered post and before the statutory deadline of June 30, 2011, in accordance with the relevant legislation. If the voters concerned did not provide, before the statutory deadline of July 16, proof that they were still eligible for registration as voters in the relevant subsectors, the ERO would delete them from the registers of voters to be published in the year, in accordance with the relevant legislation. The ERO would also put the voters concerned on the omissions list. If, after the publication of the omissions list, the voters concerned did not lodge claims before the statutory deadline of August 29, or the claims they lodged were not accepted by the Revising Officer, their names would not be included in the final register of voters.
After the publication of the final register of voters and before the election, if an organisation mentioned above provides updates of its membership list to the ERO, showing that a member has lost his membership and is therefore no longer eligible for registration as a voter of the relevant subsector, the ERO will send a letter by registered post to the voter, informing him that he has been disqualified from voting in the relevant subsector, and the consequences of engaging in corrupt conduct. On the poll register to be used in the polling station during the election, the ERO will put a marker next to the name of the person. If the person proceeds to the polling station and asks for issue of a ballot paper, the staff at the polling station will give warning to the person that he has been disqualified from voting in the relevant subsector, and the consequences of engaging in corrupt conduct. The ERO will also include the person in the inquiry process I just mentioned before, when compiling the provisional register of voters next year.
There are 249,499 voters in the 2011 final register of voters. There has been a net increase of some 29,000 voters when compared with the 220,307 voters in the 2006 final register. The number of voters by subsectors is set out at the Annex. The 2006 and 2011 final registers are five voter registration cycles apart. There were newly registered voters and voters who were deleted every year. Reasons for voters to be deleted include voters who are no longer eligible for registration in a subsector, voters who are no longer eligible for registration as electors for geographical constituencies, voters who have deceased, etc. Those voters who have been deleted may re-apply for registration as voters in the following year if they become eligible again (for example, renewal of membership). Therefore, there may be overlapping in the figures across the five years. The figures in the Annex are the net change in the number of voters between 2006 and 2011.
(b) All the public elections in Hong Kong are governed by legislation. Voter registration, eligibility of candidature, and electoral procedures are all handled in accordance with relevant legislation.
The Legislative Council Ordinance and the Schedule to the Chief Executive Election Ordinance stipulate who or which bodies are eligible for registration in each of the functional constituencies and subsectors. According to section 20B of the Legislative Council Ordinance and section 12(1) of the Schedule to the Chief Executive Election Ordinance, the bodies which are eligible for registration as voters in the Agriculture and Fisheries Subsector may submit applications. Registered and eligible voters may participate in the election in accordance with the relevant legislation.
(c) In the light of the recent public concerns that some voters may have made false declarations about residential addresses, the Administration has conducted a review of the existing arrangements and identified areas for improvement.
Firstly, we propose to introduce a requirement that address proof should be provided as standard supporting evidence at the same time when a person applies for registration as an elector of geographical constituency or when a registered elector applies for change in his residential address.
Secondly, we will enhance the existing checking on the voter register.
Thirdly, we will consider introducing legislative amendments to require electors to report change of registered address and to introduce sanction for registered electors who fail to report change of addresses before the statutory deadline and who vote at an election afterwards.
Fourthly, we will enhance publicity measures.
Fifthly, we will conduct additional checks on lists of demolished buildings and buildings to be demolished.
The proposed measures were discussed at the Panel on Constitutional Affairs meeting on December 19, 2011. We will continue to listen to the views of Members and the public.
When deliberating these proposals, we have made reference to the legislation in other jurisdictions, including certain countries where common law is practised, such as Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada. For example, for address proof, driving licence is required under the voter registration system in Australia, and voters in Canada are required to produce address proof when casting votes. We will continue to make reference to the arrangements in other places to improve our voter registration system in the light of the actual situation of Hong Kong.
Since the Legislative Council Ordinance was enacted in 1997, the Administration conducts review on the Ordinance before every Legislative Council ordinary election. The sectors and trades covered by the functional constituencies and their electorates are updated as appropriate in the light of the latest developments and other relevant factors. In the process, if we have received reports or information indicating that certain corporate electors may have ceased operation, or should not continue to be electors of the relevant constituencies, the Administration will inquire into or examine the situation, and consider whether to propose certain corporate electors be deleted.
Ends/Wednesday, December 21, 2011