A hawker was sentenced to two months in jail on Wednesday for registering with a wrong residential address during the District Council Elections in 2011.

Lau Ching-yee, 42, pleaded in mitigation that she had committed the offence under the instructions of her sister, and that she had “gone through a lot” since the charge was brought against her five years ago.

Photo: GovHK.

Rejecting Lau’s request for a non-jail option, Principal Magistrate Peter Law Tak-chuen said vote rigging is a serious offence. However, he reduced the sentence from three months by one-third to two months after taking into account Lau’s guilty plea.

Lau pleaded guilty at the Kowloon City Magistracy to one count of engaging in corrupt conduct with respect to voting at elections, an offence under the Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance.

She was originally acquitted of the offence in December 2012. On appeal by the prosecution, Lau was found guilty of the offence and sentenced to six weeks’ imprisonment in August 2014.

She then appealed to the Court of First Instance, which quashed her conviction and ordered a retrial in September 2015.

The court heard that during the 2011 district elections, an application for registration as an elector was submitted in Lau’s name to the Registration and Electoral Office.

The application stated that Lau’s principal residential address was a flat in Yin Chong Street, Mong Kok, which fell within King’s Park Constituency in the Yau Tsim Mong district.

Yau Tsim Mong District Council. File Photo: InMedia, via Flickr.

Investigators from the Independent Commission Against Corruption found that Lau obtained a ballot paper at the time, and presumed she had voted at the election.

However, an occupant of the registered flat told investigators that he and his aunt lived there, and that Lau had never resided in the flat. The anti-graft watchdog later found that Lau lived in a public housing unit outside the constituency.

See also: Voters’ address changes, mystery mailings prompt complaints that poll fraud is too easy

The issue of “ghost voters” has been a point of concern and recurring feature of local elections.

Many cases of potential voter registration fraud flagged by local media and complainants usually involved non-existent addresses or multiple families registered at the same apartment. It has also been found that some voters were registered to derelict buildings, non-existent floors and a five-star hotel.

In 2011, 13 voters with seven different surnames were registered to a flat under a member of China’s top political consultative body. Eight of the voters were subsequently arrested, but released without being charged the following year due to insufficient evidence.

Last January, the government released a consultation report on the enhancement of the voter registration system. The paper acknowledged public concerns of electoral fraud, but said that requiring electors to produce address proofs may “affect the desire of members of the public to register as electors.”

Ellie Ng

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.