A comprehensive observational record and analysis of the selection of candidates by more than 600,000 citizens

 

Conducted by Election Observation Project for
Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute
23 July 2020

Executive Summary

The Election Observation Project (EOP; or The Project) was entrusted by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute (PORI) to observe and monitor the Democrats 35+ Civil Voting (also known as The Democrats’ Primaries; or Democrats 35+ Primary Elections) held on July 11 and 12, 2020. The primaries were organised by The Power for Democracy and carried out by PORI. This report aims at explaining EOP’s principles in observing and monitoring the electoral process, methodologies and specific
operations, providing an analysis of the observation reports and data collected, as well as providing recommendations for the organizing body and the civil society for reference.

The fact that more than 600,000 people participated in an election organized by citizen organizations was an astounding success for the promotion of citizen participation as well as that for an unprecedented attempt to co-ordinate the pro-democracy camp in selecting their candidates for the Legislative Council Election in September 2020.

The Project emphasized that the principle of impartiality shall be upheld throughout the process of the election as well as all its related activities, including the design and execution of the election mechanism, nomination period, campaigning, voting, counting of votes, and all other subsequent processes. In addition, the Project sought to observe the roles played by the government, media and other stakeholders during the primary, and to examine their impact accordingly.

Following the guidelines provided by the United Nations, the European Council, Organization for Security and Cooperation of Europe (OCSE), and Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) with regard to civil and political rights, as well as the global standards for an impartial, independent election observation, the EOP has out forward the four fundamental principles in observing and monitoring the elections held in Hong Kong:

Freedom: The protection of the fundamental freedoms of candidates and prospective voters, including their freedom of expression, freedom of association, and freedom of assembly;

Fairness: The election should be carried out by an impartial election management body (EMB) with respect to the contending parties and candidates. The EMB is held responsible for the protection for fair and honest campaigning procedures, as well as preventing the possibility of obstructions and all forms of violence that may hinder the electoral process;

Honesty: Adequate measures must be in place to ensure all candidates and their campaigns comply with the rules and regulations set forth by the organisers while conducted in an open and transparent manner, in order to protect the integrity of the election;

Health: In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, organisers and candidates should make certain that electoral activities and voting processes take full consideration of public health interest as well as the right of citizens to vote.

In accordance to the above-mentioned principles, The Project has set out to design seven “Voting Integrity Indexes” (VII), which include: 1. Freedom Index; 2. Fairness Index; 3. Peacefulness Index; 4. Election Observation Recognition Index; 5. Arrangements of Polling Stations Index; 6. Paper Ballot Stations Index; and 7. Public Health Index. EOP then categorised the criteria listed in observation reports to match the seven indexes, followed by an analysis of the observation reports received, and calculate the percentages to which each aspect of the election met the standards and graded them under 4 benchmarks: “Underperformed” (0-20%), “Intermittent”(20-40%); “Satisfactory” (60-80%); and “Outstanding” (80-100%).

To accommodate the two-day voting schedule, EOP had trained 35 district-level observers and 195 stations-based monitors, who were responsible for observing and monitoring the polling activities across Hong Kong. Moreover, each observer/monitor had to sign a Code of Conduct before starting their missions, which ensured that they were not involved in any campaigning efforts and agreed to take part in upholding the independence of our observation mission. Observers and monitors were required to submit reports within a two-hour interval, in which observations on (A) Exterior of Polling Station; (B) Non-canvassing zone (defined by the organizers as “30 meters surrounding the polling stations”); (C) Operations in the  Polling Station; and (D) Interior Setup of the Polling Station were made. Ultimately, The Project coordinated and supported 225 observers/monitors across 249 polling stations (99%), and collected a total of 2,430 reports through 11-12 July.

Of the 33 measures designed for the purpose of assessing the integrity of the primary election, 22 of the measures attained the benchmark for “Outstanding” and 5 obtained that of “Satisfactory”. Among the measures, those categorised within indexes of Freedom, Peacefulness and Election Observation Recognition are notably successful. Four measures met the benchmark of “Intermittent”, while the other two were regrettably graded as “Underperformed”. Although all six of the measures were related to the arrangements within the polling stations, these shortcomings did not appear to have impacted people’s desire to vote, thus limiting its effect on the primary to a bare minimum. The EOP considers that the organising bodies’ successful utilisation of an easy-to-use and convenient POPVOTE e-voting system was an important factor for the mitigation of the aforementioned shortcomings. Moreover, the organisers’ extensive efforts and measures taken to protect voter’s privacy, as well as their brisk response towards the unexpected event(s) taking place prior to the primary election, deserve our commendation.

Voting Integrity Index

From the integrated analysis of the 2,430 observation reports, we are able to conclude that the voting process was conducted in a smooth and orderly manner, exceeding the expectations of the organisers and candidates. In terms of credibility, the record-breaking voter turnout provided a solid foundation for the primary election as well as the voting mechanism, which in turn contributed to the binding power of the results. Ensuing the primary, we noticed that all candidates declared their acceptance of the result and that of the agreements made prior to the election.

Moreover, the primary has amassed international attention, a myriad of foreign media and journals, such as Reuters, BBC, Wall Street Journal, AFP, DW to name a few, have reported on this primary election, covering stories from the substantial voter turnout that defied expectation, as well as the preceding actions taken by the Hong Kong government and police force against PORI.

On the contrary, the government officials in Hong Kong claimed to have received many cases of complaints, suggesting that the primary election will contribute to an unfair Legislative Council Election in September, making allegations that the primary has infringed the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, transgressed the Social Distancing Measures that limits mass gathering to a maximum of fifty persons, while condemning that the organising bodies have committed the crime of subversion under the newly enacted Hong Kong National Security Law. The Hong Kong government announced that it would take matters seriously in its investigation. For its part, the Chinese Central Government took a strong, hostile stance from the very start towards the primary election. After the election, the Chinese Liaison Office (CLO) in Hong Kong and the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) in Beijing stepped up their actions by issuing statements to express “severe condemnation” succeeding the allegedly “illegal” primary election, as they claim that it has violated the Basic Law and Article 22 of the Hong Kong National Security Law. The CLO and HKMAO also indicated that the primary “disrupts Hong Kong and hurts the country, turning Hong Kong into a base for ‘colour revolution’ and subversive activities targeted towards the country.” Co-organisers of the primary election, Nok Hin AU, Andrew CHIU, and Benny TAI have resigned from their coordinator roles in the primary and/or the Legislative Council Election consecutively, due to the statements released by the CLO and HKMAO.

Recommendations

In the light of the statistical analysis of our observers’ reports and the aforementioned developments, the EOP would like to offer the following recommendations:

I. Organising Bodies

a. The primary was a massive civil activity incorporating the help of 1000+ volunteers, he two voting days were a challenge to not only the organizers but also the participants all levels. While it is understandable due to the lack of funding and support, some issues could have been avoided by more extensive training provided to the volunteers working at the polling stations, in addition to the provision of on-line operation guidelines, left at the hands of the volunteers to self-learn in some cases. It is recommended that before the next primary election or similar civil voting initiative, better preparation in terms of voter education and staff training would better reduce the administrative burden on the days of voting, as well as minimizing redundant inquiries with regard to operation details.

b. The organisers and candidates had been neglectful to the needs of ethnic minorities and those who do not understand the Chinese language and do not speak Cantonese. It is recommended that in the future, the needs of the minority groups should be met in order to safeguard and promote their right to vote.

c. Although the existing voting system has proven to be effective in vetting out duplicated voters, where only one ballot is counted, the EOP recommends a mandatory timestamp on paper ballots in order to further improve the mechanism.

d. If conditions and/or resources permit, organisers could conduct a pre-run of the primary in order to test and make necessary adjustments to practical operations of the voting system and arrangements of polling stations.

e. Explore the option of pre-registered postal vote to better accommodate people who are unable to visit the polling stations in person, such as those in jail or in detainment, as well as those who are hospitalized or quarantined due to public health concerns or medical needs.

f. In an effort to reduce misunderstanding between stakeholders and increase transparency, accountability and credibility of the primary election, organisers should actively seek dialogues and discussion with/between different parties and candidates who intend to take part in the election.

g. Organisers should take into consideration the physical capabilities and environmental limitations with regard to polling stations, or provide necessary resources and time to provide further assistance in line with the expected standards and requirements set for a polling station for civil voting.

II. The Hong Kong Government

a. The Chief Executive, the Principal Officials, the Electoral Affairs Commission and other governmental departments should actively seek to facilitate and protect the right of citizens to participate in public affairs, including candidate’s right to campaign, to seek to be elected, and citizen’s right to vote. The Chinese and Hong Kong Government must refrain from publicly accusing those who participate in the primary election as a violation of the Hong Kong National Security Law without evidence, as such acts could only be perceived as an attempt to create a repressive atmosphere and/or obstruct the citizen’s right to participate in lawful civil actions.

b. It is regrettable that the Home Affairs Department and the Housing Authority used various means to restrict District Council and Legislative Council members from utilizing their offices to serve and aid in the primary election as polling stations. Such obstructions and, in some cases, intimidation by the government, contributed to the attainment of unsatisfactory grades in the clear labelling of polling stations/service stations, the fair display of necessary information, and the ambiguous markings of non-canvassing zones at a large number of polling stations.

Structure of The Report

Our Report offers an in-depth definition of the basic principles of electoral integrity (Chapter 1); explanation on methodologies devised for election observing/monitoring and the framing of our  “Voting Integrity Indexes” (Chapter 2); provides details on and analysis of the nomination period, campaigning efforts, pre-primary arrangements, two-day voting period, counting of ballots and the external reactions (Chapters 3-10); the last chapter concludes with a summary of The Project’s observations on the primary election along with suggested recommendations. Additional information such as earlier statements published by the EOP and other pertinent information and materials are also included in the Appendix.

The EOP would like to express our gratitudes towards the organising bodies, PORI, and their staff and volunteers for their diligence and professionalism, as well as our volunteering observers/monitors for their tireless devotion towards safeguarding electoral integrity, without which the milestone for a comprehensive and complete citizen election observation/monitoring would not have succeeded.

The upcoming Legislative Council Election is set to be held on 6 September 2020, and the two-week nomination period began on 18 July. We look forward to bringing more people together in our Election Observation Project, to extensively and independently monitor and record how the Hong Kong National Security Law and the various forms of political repressions may affect the civil and political right of Hong Kong people in the forthcoming election.

About EOP

The Hong Kong Election Observation Project (EOP) is a joint platform initiated by the Comparative Governance and Policy Research Centre of the Department of Government & International Studies at Hong Kong Baptist University[1] and Civil Rights Observer in September 2019 to become an independent academic and civil society platform in the field of electoral integrity study and education.

EOP offers support to election monitoring networks in all the 18 districts in Hong Kong and conducts a comprehensive examination on the electoral process.

Goal: Promote and support democratic development in Hong Kong through long-term and short-term election observation.

Objectives:

  • Enhancing the integrity of electoral processes and minimize election irregularities and election-related human rights violations;
  • Providing accurate, impartial information and analysis on issues related to elections and prospects for democratic development;
  • Enhancing civic engagement on democratic norms and international standards on free and fair elections; and
  • Strengthen EOP operations to carry out effective election observations.

[1] Disclaimer: Any views and opinions expressed in this submission are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the University. The University specifically denies any responsibility for the accuracy or quality of information presented. The University accepts no liability whatsoever for any losses or damages that may be incurred or caused to any party as a result of the use of such information.

 

Report summary (Chinese Only): Democrats 35+ Civil Voting Observation Presentation

Full Report (Chinese Only): Democrats 35+ Civil Voting Observation Report (latest update on Aug 8, 2o20)