Sorry for painful vote-count delay

Top News | Michael Shum 21 Sep 2021

Hong Kong's first Election Committee after Beijing's electoral overhaul hit a major snag as vote counting took 14 hours for just 4,380 ballots.

The chairman of the Electoral Affairs Commission, Barnabas Fung Wah, apologized for the delay and admitted the process of delivering the ballot boxes and vote counting was unsatisfactory. The time needed far exceeded reasonable expectations.

At a press briefing yesterday, Fung said initial findings showed that there were human errors or errors of judgment with the frontline staff as they failed to react quickly to seek help when they encountered problems.

One of the problems would be staff at polling stations filling in information in the wrong boxes on the ballot verification papers or putting in the wrong dates, causing staff at the central counting stations to reconcile the information later on, Fung said.

"We're looking into whether counting could still be conducted side-by-side with the reconciliation of the ballot paper account," he said. Electoral staff were not flexible enough.

Fung also confirmed ballot papers were jammed during the vote counting at about 4am yesterday, but it was quickly resolved after resetting the machines.

But he refused to elaborate further. Fung said it was not fair to pinpoint anyone in particular before the publication of the election report to be submitted to Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

Questions remained unanswered since it was not the first time for the SAR to hold elections after the 1997 handover. The Registration and Electoral Office has held nearly 30 elections and by-elections with millions of ballots.

With only 4,380 votes from five polling stations, authorities counted the votes overnight and only finalized results at 8am yesterday, despite polling ending at 6pm on Sunday. Fung said earlier results should have been out by midnight.

Electoral staff managed to open the first ballot box only at 9.05pm after it arrived at the central ballot counting station in the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai.

The ballot box from the polling station in Tuen Mun - the farthest from Wan Chai - arrived earlier than the one from Tsuen Wan, which was the last to arrive at 11.08pm on Sunday - five hours after polling ended.

During the long wait, impatient and sleepy candidates decided to go home to sleep while others, including electoral staff, took a nap at their desks or in chairs.

Tik Chi-yuen said there were only 136 ballots in his social welfare subsector and 17 people were allocated to count them, but results for the subsector were announced only at 5.37am.

He questioned whether it will take weeks to finish counting millions of ballots for the Legislative Council election in December.

"This is not called strict, but inefficient," Tik said. "It is wasting everybody's time and effort for having waited here.

"I hope the Registration and Electoral Office will learn a lesson and review the process."

Lawmaker Alice Mak Mei-kuen from the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions confronted Fung, saying: "It has taken more than 10 hours to count the ballots."

Another candidate, Peggy Wong Pik-kiu, from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said many candidates decided to go home instead of wait for the result.

None of the elected candidates of some subsectors, including the insurance subsector and commercial (third) subsector appeared on stage as the results were announced at 3am.

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