The Democratic Party yesterday urged the government to raise awareness of the election for five new legislative 'super seats' next month after a party survey revealed a 'worrying' lack of understanding about the ballot process.
The party fears widespread unfamiliarity with the first-of-its-kind citywide election will cause voters to mark ballots incorrectly, leading to a surge in the number of votes declared void and hence not counted.
'It is worrying,' said legislator Fred Li Wah-ming, who oversaw the survey. 'I am meeting voters on the streets every day who ask me if 'one voter, two votes' means they can pick two [slates] on the same ballot paper. This could be messy because if they do so, the ballots will become invalid.'
The September 9 Legislative Council poll will allow the 3.2 million permanent residents excluded from voting in the trade-based functional constituencies to select a candidate for one of five new seats to represent the district councils constituency.
The super-seat ballot is in addition to ballots for existing geographic constituencies, hence the phrase 'one voter, two votes'. Super seat ballots will be white, while geographical constituency ballots will be blue.
But the Democratic Party's telephone survey of 521 residents found that only 26 per cent understood the super seats could be voted on by anyone who lacked a vote in the functional constituencies, even though two-thirds said they knew they would have two votes this year.
About a fifth also mistakenly believed that only district councillors could vote in the election. District councillors nominated candidates for the super seats.
The party is worried that the confusion could lead to an increase in the number of poorly marked ballots. Four years ago, 12,965 ballots were ruled invalid and not counted because voters left them blank or voted for more than one candidate.
Li feared the reality might be even worse than the survey suggested because those who completed it were predominantly younger and middle class. The poor and elderly were even less likely to understand how the new system worked, he said.
'We are less well-organised than the pro-establishment camp ... pan-democratic supporters will get less information, and the stakes are higher if they cast their ballots incorrectly,' Li said. 'The best we can do is to hand out pamphlets, but the government publicity will be much more effective.'
A Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau spokeswoman said it had been publicising the new process since late last month and would continue until polling day, using television and radio announcements, video walls on commercial buildings and leaflets distributed to electors. Polling staff will also be available to provide help on election day.
Meanwhile, the administration announced the names of 287 candidates yesterday who have been cleared to stand in the Legco election. Eighteen of them will compete for the five super seats. Some 216 candidates - 21 running as individuals and 46 on slates - will vie for 35 seats in five geographical constituencies, while 37 will run for 14 functional constituency seats. Another 16 candidates in the remaining 14 functional constituencies will be returned unopposed.