Legislative Council elections 2016

Hong Kong election ballot papers at risk of tampering in the homes of officers

Critics call for more secure handling of all election materials prior to polling day

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 September, 2016, 8:38pm
UPDATED : Friday, 02 September, 2016, 12:49pm

Critics have urged the government to improve the handling of ballot papers after it emerged that the documents were being stored in the homes of polling station officers prior to the election.

News agency FactWire reported on Thursday that, according to a handbook issued by the Registration and Electoral Office, officers were allowed to take ballot papers back to their homes a week before the Legislative Council election on Sunday.

The news report said the ballot papers were sealed in plastic bags after being counted and would only be opened on the day of the election.

Explained: how Hong Kong’s legislative candidates are voted in

A reporter from the agency also managed to enter the venue where the election material was being distributed and witnessed around a dozen officers queuing for taxis with the documents.

Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a political scientist at the Chinese University, said placing the ballot papers in the officers’ homes increased the risk of the documents being tampered with.

“And if the ballot papers are lost or stolen, it will be disastrous,” he said. “The public’s trust in the government has been tumbling in the past few years. I think it’s unnecessary for authorities to use measures that might make the public become even more suspicious of the integrity of election.”

In future, the academic urged the government to assign more resources to ensure ballot papers are delivered directly to polling stations on the day of the election.

Keeping an accurate electoral roll is fundamental for authorities

But a presiding officer, who wished to remain anonymous, said there was no problem with the practice and it was “demoralising” to hear some calling their credibility into question.

“The plastic bags are sealed with wax... If the seals are broken, they’ll definitely know [the ballot papers have been tampered with],” the officer told the Post.

In a statement issued after midnight, the Registration and Electoral Office (REO) said the arrangement for polling staff to take the ballot papers home before the election day had been in place for years and had “all along been effective”. It added it had reported the “trespassing” case of the news agency staff to the police.

It said as all the polling stations were temporarily borrowed premises with no area for safe custody of ballot papers and proper procedures for polling staff to receive the materials on-site, it was difficult to deliver the ballot papers to polling stations before the polling day.

Given the large number of polling stations, it said the officers in charge would need to collect some ballot papers, copies of the register of electors and electoral materials for their respective polling stations in batches from their office about one week before the polling day. They are required to bring them along when reporting to the polling stations for duty on the morning of the polling day to facilitate the opening of polling stations at 7.30am for electors to vote.

The quantity of ballot papers and their serial numbers for collection would be checked and signed by responsible officers for verification while the ballot papers would be sealed in tamper-proof plastic bags which would then be put in locked suitcase, according to the office.

“Suitable security measures are in place at the REO premises where ballot papers are distributed. Security guards are hired and closed circuit television cameras are installed. There is also a registration procedure to verify the identity of polling staff.

“Yesterday [Thursday] afternoon, as soon as it was found that someone had trespassed and was taking video at the premises, the staff immediately approached the person and subsequently reported the case to the police,” the statement said.

FactWire could not be reached for comment on the office’s filing of a report to police.

Additional reporting: Gary Cheung