With less than 20 days to go until the Legislative Council elections, cases of non-existent voters and unsolicited address changes have revived fears of election fraud – a recurring feature in recent elections.

A pan-democratic candidate in the upcoming election said he received a complaint from a voter that an election mailout was sent to an unknown person who does not live in the same flat.

Lawmaker Gary Fan Kwok-wai of the Neo Democrats told HKFP that he was notified by the voter on Monday, after the election mailouts were sent last week for his campaign in the New Territories East constituency. The voter lives in Metro City Phase 1 in the Wan Hang constituency, where Fan is also a district councillor.

A pamphlet from Gary Fan was sent to an unknown person who is not living in the voter’s flat. Photo: Gary Fan.

“That person does not live in the voter’s flat,” Fan said. “The voter did not come to me during the 2015 district council election, so as far as I know the same incident did not happen for that voter at the time.”

Fan added that he received three similar complaints during the district council election in November last year.

The labels containing voters’ addresses were given to candidates by the Registration and Electoral Office (REO). The labels are attached to election mailouts: advertisements sent to households free of charge through the Hong Kong Post.

“It is very likely due to mistakes in the information in the electoral register,” Fan said.  He said he has filed a complaint to the REO.

“It is the responsibility of the REO to verify voters’ addresses. The REO should improve the registration system as soon as possible, to avoid any suspected ‘vote-rigging’ activity from happening again,” Fan said.

Wah Fu Estate. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Changes to registered address

Another issue concerning voters’ addresses was that they were being changed without voters’ knowledge.

Henry Chai Man-hon, a Democratic Party district councillor, told HKFP that the address of a voter he knew personally had been changed at least three times since the last LegCo election in 2012, although the voter did not change his registered address himself, according to Chai.

The address of voter X, who lives in Wah Fu Estate in Chai’s constituency, was changed to an address in another constituency in the 2012 LegCo Election.

But X in fact still lived in the estate. Close to the district council election election last November, Chai found in the 2015 registers that X’s address had changed to another flat in Wah Fu Estate. Chai asked the REO to investigate, but it told him that it found no suspicious activity.

When Chai inspected the final register of electors for this year’s Legislative Council election, he found that the registered address of X was changed again, this time to another building in the constituency, although X had still not moved.

“It seems someone is changing his address every election year,” Chai said. “This problem has yet to be eradicated.”

Henry Chai. Photo: SocRec.

Chai said the problem could have been caused by clerical errors, “but we realised it was not a simple mistake like writing the wrong letter for a building block – the numbers of the flats were also wrong,” he said. “It is very hard for a person to make mistakes in both fields.”

“The only possible reason is that someone changed it,” he added.

Chai said under the existing system, it was very easy to change someone’s registered voting address.

“No proof of address is required,” he said. “There is no way to verify the signature.”

Those who want to register as voters are required to submit their Hong Kong identity card number, name and address. Existing voters changing their addresses are only required to submit their personal details, old and new addresses, and seek approval from the REO. Since the final register of electors was already published in July, voters’ details cannot be changed until the next round of voter registration.

In a letter to the REO, Chai asked the office to look into the incident “to prevent people from using address changes to commit voter fraud, affecting the fairness of elections.”

The REO told HKFP in response to this incident that voters should contact the office if they find that their registered information is incorrect.

Voters were found to be registered to the derelict Po Fat Building on Belcher’s Street. Photo: Google Maps.

Past cases

Ahead of the district council election last year, hundreds of cases concerning voters who were registered to questionable addresses were found. Suspected voter fraud include voters registered at derelict buildings, non-existent floors and a five-star hotel, among others.

Another notable case was reported in 2011 after the district council election, where 13 voters with seven different surnames were registered to a flat under a member of the Chinese top political consultative body.

Eight people who were registered to the flat were reportedly arrested at the end of 2011, but released without being charged due to insufficient evidence in the next year.

A Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions district councillor discovered last year that her address was changed on the voter register without her knowledge.

District councillor Lau Kwai-yung. Photo: Facebook.

Inquiry mechanism

When HKFP asked about the ‘ghost voter’ reported by Gary Fan, the REO replied in an email that it reminded the public during the previous voter registration period to provide true and accurate information when completing the voter registration form, and stressed the importance of updating addresses.

“If members of the public come across election advertisements that do not belong to voters living in their residence, they may provide information to the Registration and Electoral Office, which will follow up promptly,” it wrote.

The REO said it will contact voters to confirm the correctness of their provided addresses upon inquiries from members of the public. It will help them to update their addresses as soon as possible if they have moved, so that the change can be reflected in the next electoral register.

Suspected false addresses identified during the inquiry process will be referred to law enforcement agencies, it added.

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen. File Photo: GovHK.

Changes for next term?

The Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau released a consultation report on the enhancement of the voter registration system in January.

“Majority of the views received are in support of introducing the requirement of producing address proofs by electors when submitting applications for new registrations or change of registration particulars,” the report read.

“However, there are also views opposing the proposal, the main reasons given are that some members of the public… will have difficulty in submitting address proof, or it will be burdensome for these persons to submit address proofs,” it added. “At the same time, the proposal may affect the desire of members of the public to register as electors and/or report changes of address.”

Any changes in legislation to the existing system will have to be proposed when the new term starts after the upcoming Legislative Council election.

The full list of candidates in the Legislative Council election on September 4 can be viewed here.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.