Following is a question by the Hon Ronny Tong and a reply by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Raymond Tam, in the Legislative Council today (June 6):
It has been reported in the media that after the uncovering of "vote rigging" incidents in last year's District Council Election, the Registration and Electoral Office (REO) had, through various verification means, selected 290 000 electors and issued inquiry letters to them, requesting them to confirm whether they were still residing in the residential addresses as registered in the register of electors by providing proof of their residential addresses. The reports have pointed out that after the deadline for giving replies, REO only received about 38 000 replies and about 250 000 electors have not yet replied. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) of a breakdown of the aforesaid 290 000 letters by the six verification means (including random checks, verification of electors' registered addresses through government departments, undelivered poll cards in last year's District Council Election and Election Committee Subsector Elections, complaints concerning suspected false addresses in the previous District Council Election, undelivered letters in the elector registration exercise for the District Council (second) functional constituency, and other means); a breakdown, by the six verification means, of the aforesaid 250 000 electors who have not yet replied; if such information cannot be made available, the reasons for that;
(b) whether the aforesaid 250 000 electors who have not replied to REO's letters to submit proof of their addresses will thus be disqualified from voting; if so, of the legislation or the power under which the authorities disqualify these electors from voting; as it has been reported that according to REO's information, 76 000 and 27 000 electors were omitted from the register of electors respectively in 2011 and 2010, while 60 000, 91 000 and 33 000 electors were disqualified in 2009, 2008 and 2007 respectively, of the reasons why the authorities had omitted them from the register; if such information cannot be made available, the reasons for that; and
(c) of the number of suspected cases discovered by the Government so far after the uncovering of the "vote rigging" incidents by the press in November 2011; the number of cases into which investigation has been launched; whether prosecutions have been instituted; if not, of the reasons for that?
To maintain the integrity of the voter registration system and to enhance the accuracy of information in the register of electors, since January 2012, the Registration and Electoral Office (REO) has implemented a series of measures to increase the number of electors under checking and the extent of checking. Through various checking measures, the REO has conducted checks against about 1.7 million electors, which is equivalent to about 48 per cent of the total number of electors (i.e. 3.56 million) in the current final register of electors. In accordance with the checking results, the REO has issued inquiry letters to a total of about 296 000 electors (about 17 per cent of all electors selected for checking) according to the relevant regulation, requesting them to confirm whether the addresses in the current final register are still their principal residential addresses. As at May 25, 2012, the REO has received the replies from about 40 000 electors, which is about 13 per cent of the number of inquiry letters sent.
As regards the questions raised by the Hon Ronny Tong, our reply is as follows:
(a) Details of the 296 000 inquiry letters sent by the REO and the 255 000 electors who have yet to give a reply to the written inquiries as at May 25 are at Annex.
(b) According to section 7 of the Electoral Affairs Commission (Registration of Electors) (Legislative Council Geographical Constituencies) (District Council Constituencies) Regulation (Cap. 541A) (the Regulation), the Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) may make inquiries that he considers fit to ascertain whether the address recorded in the existing final register against a person's name is no longer that person's principal residential address when compiling a provisional register. The Regulation also provides that an inquiry must be made in writing and must be sent by registered post addressed to the person from whom it is made. Section 9 of the Regulation also provides that the ERO must enter into the omissions list the name and principal residential address of any person to whom the ERO has made an inquiry and asked for information but the required information was not received by the ERO on or before the specified date (i.e. May 16).
Accordingly, the inquiry letters state that if an elector fails to give a reply by the specified date to confirm his principal residential address, his name will be included in the omissions list to be published on June 15, 2012. For those whose names are included in the omissions list, unless they reply to the inquiry letter, update their residential addresses or make a claim by June 29 and subsequently obtain approval from the Revising Officer, their names will not be included in the final register to be published in mid July and will not be able to vote in subsequent elections, including the Legislative Council (LegCo) Election in September.
In the past, the REO generally issued inquiry letters to those electors whose poll cards have been returned. The main reason for the REO to include the names of electors into the omissions list is because the ERO has reason to believe, based on the information gathered after making an inquiry in accordance with the Regulation, that the address recorded in the existing final register against a person's name is no longer that person's principal residential address or that the elector has passed away.
Since the REO mainly issued inquiry letters to electors whose poll cards had been returned, the number of electors included in the omissions list depended on the number of returned poll cards after a LegCo Election or District Council (DC) Election. Therefore, the number of electors who had failed to reply the inquiry letters and thus included in the omissions list was generally larger in the year after a general election than other years.
(c) The cases from complaints and media reports on suspected false addresses of electors after the 2011 DC Election involve about 9 940 electors. After investigation, the REO issued inquiry letters to about 6 470 electors involved in cases requiring further follow-up actions, requesting them to confirm whether they still reside at their registered addresses and to provide address proof. The REO also referred cases involving a total of 2 120 electors to the law enforcement agencies for investigation (1 537 electors were involved in the cases referred to the Hong Kong Police Force, while 583 electors were involved in the cases referred to the Independent Commission Against Corruption). According to information provided by the law enforcement agencies, the Hong Kong Police Force has arrested 16 persons so far. The proceedings for a false declaration case involving seven persons have been completed at the magistrates' court on March 2, 2012. All seven defendants were convicted. One of the defendants was sentenced to four months' imprisonment (suspended for two years). The other six persons were sentenced to two months' imprisonment (suspended for one year).
The Independent Commission Against Corruption has so far arrested 53 persons, and prosecution has been instituted in respect of 15 persons. Seven of them have been charged with engaging in corrupt conduct in the 2011 DC Election. Each of the other eight persons has been charged with an offence of knowingly making a false statement in a voter registration application and another alternative offence of recklessly making a statement in a voter registration application which is false in a material particular. One of the defendants admitted the conviction of "making a statement which is false in a material particular". The magistrates' court on May 18, 2012 sentenced this person to two months' imprisonment (suspended for one year). The charges against the other three persons were dropped. The trials and pre-trials in respect of the remaining 11 defendants will be held in July 2012.
Ends/Wednesday, June 6, 2012