The government has dismissed a newspaper commentary claiming that ballot papers for the chief executive election may be sent to the mainland for fingerprint checks.

Political commentator Li Wei-ling wrote in Apple Daily on Friday that a conversation between business sector electors and a China Liaison Office official was being circulated. The official asked electors if they knew where the ballots would go – that China has records of electors’ fingerprints and it could know who they voted for if the ballots were sent to the mainland.

Li wrote the electors were unable to dismiss the theory, as no one had noticed where the ballots went in the past. Plus, each elector has a home return permit – a travel document for China – so the mainland authorities have copies of their fingerprints.

china liaison office emblem flag
The China Liaison Office in Hong Kong. Photo: HKFP.

Li also wrote that the electors were not certain if the Liaison Office – Beijing’s organ in Hong Kong – could indeed obtain the ballots, but their fear of the possibility constituted “white terror.”

“Even if the Liaison Office could not do this, or failed to do it, the influence has been felt,” she wrote.

Electoral office responds

The Registration and Electoral Office (REO) then issued a statement clarifying the handling of the ballots.

It said according to the Electoral Procedure (Chief Executive Election) Regulations, the Returning Officer – Madam Justice Carlye Chu Fun-ling for this election – must put the ballot papers into separate sealed packets, after declaring the result of the election or terminating the proceedings for the election.

The Returning Officer will invite the candidates, or their election agents or counting agents, to be present when making up the sealed packets and endorsing them.

Chief Executive election 2012
Chief Executive election on March 25, 2012. Photo: GovHK.

The Chief Electoral Officer, a civil servant of the REO, will keep the sealed and endorsed packets and related election documents for six months according to the law.

“The Chief Electoral Officer is not allowed to authorise anyone checking any ballot papers except in accordance with orders made by the court relating to legal proceedings over election petitions or other legal proceedings,” the statement read. “Otherwise the Chief Electoral Officer must destroy all the ballot papers and the related documents after the six month term ends.”

“The REO must point out in all seriousness that the rumour cited by the relevant commentary is completely baseless, and is not allowed by law. The REO also reiterates that the entire voting process is confidential.”

“As in the past, the REO will strictly follow the requirements of the law, to ensure the election will be conducted in a fair, open, and honest manner.”

In 2007, the Electoral Affairs Commission issued a similar statement after tycoon and then-elector Stanley Ho Hung-sun advised electors to cast valid ballots, because he claimed that there were ways to find out who had cast a blank vote.

Carrie Lam
Carrie Lam (middle). Photo: Carrie Lam campaign office.

Some electors from pro-democracy camp and the pro-Beijing camp previously claimed they have been receiving telephone calls from either the China Liaison Office or “intermediaries familiar with the Chinese side” campaigning for candidate Carrie Lam, Beijing’s favourite.

Reports have also claimed the China Liaison Office asked electors to take photos of their ballot papers to prove they voted for Lam.

The REO on Thursday released a statement stating that electors are not allowed to take photos, make any audio or video recording, communicate with others, or use a mobile phone or any other communication device to communicate with any other person, inside the main polling station. Offenders are liable to imprisonment for six months and a fine of HK$5,000.

It said electors will be requested to switch off their mobile phones and put them away properly before entering the main polling station.

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.