FactWire filed complaint to the Ombudsman for REO’s denial of information disclosure

Press release

The 2016 Legislative Council (LegCo) General Elections raised eyebrows about electoral integrity. Some electors suspected impersonation whereby persons had been issued with ballot papers using other persons’ identity, and ballot papers outnumbered the voter turnout in at least five polling stations.

FactWire News Agency has been following the cases closely. Starting from the next day after the Election, FactWire has been requesting relevant information from the Registration and Electoral Office (REO) to find out what happened. From September 5 to October 4, it has been almost a month until FactWire received an official rejection from the REO to disclose most of the relevant information.

In this year’s general election, when some electors tried to claim their entitled ballot papers, they were notified that someone else had previously been issued with the ballot papers using their identity. Upon verifying the elector’s registration particulars, the polling staff informed the elector that his or her name and identity number was already crossed out on the Registry, which means that another person had taken the ballot paper using the elector’s identity. The elector could thus only take from the presiding officer a ballot paper with the words “tendered” printed on it. The tendered ballot paper will be treated as invalid, which means the elector will be stripped of his or her right to vote.

Through contact with political parties and polling agents, FactWire reporters verified information from 96 polling stations, which is one sixth of all 571 polling stations, and found out that the ballot papers outnumbered the voter turnout (as marked on the P15 form, accessible on the notice board outside every polling station) in 5 polling stations, accumulating into more than 800 ballot papers. Some P15 forms in certain polling stations were corrected after the election.

So how many electors were there in Hong Kong who lost their right to vote as a result? Is the case of having a different number of ballot papers and voter turnout common in the Election? What is the reason behind all of these? In view of the above two situations, FactWire requested the REO to provide 6 types of information on September 5 and 6, which include:

  1. The total number of invalid ballot papers in Hong Kong according to their types (tendered, spoilt, unused, unmarked, etc)

  2. The number of invalid and tendered ballot papers from each polling station

  3. The number of complaints received by the Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC) on “someone else had previously been issued with the ballot papers using their identity when electors tried to claim their entitled ballot papers in the polling stations”, and “suspected impersonation whereby persons had been issued with ballot papers using other persons’ identity”

  4. The hourly cumulative voter turnout from each polling station (P15 form record)

  5. The voter turnout and number of invalid ballot papers announced by the presiding officer on the spot at each polling station

  6. The 60 statistical forms from the 5 polling stations with the number of ballot papers outnumbering the voter turnout

No responses have been received from the REO for more than 10 days after FactWire issued the request, when the news report was nearing its publishing deadline on 18th September. On September 14, FactWire used the “Code on Access to Information” to request for the above 6 types of information from the REO. After 14 working days, the REO replied the following on October 4:

“The EAC is currently inspecting the relevant information to submit a report to the Chief Executive within three months’ time as required by the law. Therefore, for request no.1 to 5, we are unable to provide you with the information at the moment, according to the following provisions of the Code on Access to Information: 2.13 (a): Information relating to incomplete analysis, research or statistics, where disclosure could be misleading or deprive the department or any other person of priority of publication or commercial value– are information which may be refused by the department concerned.

For request no.6, you have requested for a total of 60 statistical forms from 6 polling stations. We need a longer time to process such a request and will return to you as soon as possible. Should you be dissatisfied with the REO for refusing to provide part of the information, you may write to the Chief Electoral Officer for an internal review of the resolution. Our address is 10th Floor, Harbour Centre, 25 Harbour Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong. You can also report to the Ombudsman.”

Section 8 of the Electoral Affairs Commission Ordinance states that: Within 3 months, or such longer period as the Chief Executive may allow in any particular case, of the conclusion of an election, the Commission shall make a report to the Chief Executive on matters relating to that election in respect of which the Commission has any function under this or any other Ordinance.

However, as early as September 9, 2012, during the last LegCo Election, some electors have complained about suspected impersonation whereby persons had been issued with ballot papers using other persons’ identity. At that time, the HKSAR Government had publicized the relevant information before submitting the election report to the Chief Executive. On October 17, 2012, only one month after the election, LegCo member Albert Chan Wai-yip issued a written question in the LegCo on the above case.

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen replied that there were 135 tendered ballot papers in the Geographical Constituency, 95 in the District Council (Second) Functional Constituency and 5 in the Traditional Functional Constituency. He also pointed out that the EAC received 70 relevant complaints and listed the numbers out according to each polling station.

Referring to the election report submitted to the Chief Executive on November 22, 2012, the EAC elaborated in paragraph 13.21-13.25 about “complaints regarding tendered ballot papers”, which shows no direct relations between whether the EAC made public the information and the submission of election report. The REO’s approach in dealing with request to publicize relevant information regarding the tendered and invalid ballot papers is clearly different from the past.

According to the “2016 Legislative Council General Election Operational Manual” , as to information such as the hourly cumulative voter turnout (P15 form) of each polling station, they have to be displayed on the poster stand outside the polling station. Regarding the number of voter turnout and invalid ballot papers announced by each presiding officer on the spot, the manual also states that they should be made available to every candidate, election agent and polling agent during the counting of ballot papers.

In 5 LegCo election reports previously submitted to the Chief Executive by the EAC, FactWire found out that the reports used only 1 chapter in general to provide a more detailed explanation to particular public complaints individually.

The appendix of each report only listed out information such as the number of invalid ballot papers, and the hourly cumulative voter turnout according to the 5 geographical constituencies. The relevant information of each polling station was not disclosed.

FactWire believes that the above information involves significant public interest and helps monitor the impartiality of the election. In view of the fact that the HKSAR Government had made relevant information public, that part of the information had already been revealed on Election day, and that there is no guarantee that the REO would release the relevant information upon submitting the election report, FactWire filed complaint to the Office of The Ombudsman, Hong Kong, on October 5.

FactWire News Agency
Oct 6, 2016.
Hong Kong.

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