Technical malfunction at polling stations leaves citizens unable to vote, sparking outrage over Election Commission’s handling

DAB Party Chairwoman Starry Lee took action and Investigates voter frustration over polling station computer system failure. Source: Starry Lee/Facebook.

11th December 2023 – (Hong Kong) In yesterday’s District Council Ordinary Election, voters encountered significant delays and frustrations as a result of a computer system failure at multiple polling stations. The glitch occurred at around 7.40pm, approximately 12 hours after the commencement of voting. The malfunction impacted the electronic voter registration system, rendering it unable to process votes. Disgruntled voters expressed their dissatisfaction with the Election Affairs Office, criticising their IT capabilities and the absence of a contingency plan for such a critical mechanism.

Numerous complaints were received from voters across various districts, including Tuen Mun, Sai Kung, Yau Tsim Mong, Chai Wan, and Shau Kei Wan. At Wan Chai Post Office polling station on-site officials acknowledged the technical issues and informed citizens that they would need to wait until the problem was resolved before being able to cast their votes. An anonymous voter, who had specifically returned from mainland China to participate in the election, expressed frustration, stating that such incidents were unacceptable. When asked if the incident would affect their inclination to vote, they admitted that it might but expressed a determination to remain at the polling station, albeit potentially unwilling to wait an additional 20 minutes.

As a result of the technical difficulties, some voters were left waiting outside the polling stations, while others chose to leave the premises. Polling station staff members distributed refreshments to those who were present.

At around 8.30pm, the Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC) issued a press release, acknowledging the malfunction of the electronic voter registration system. It stated that all polling stations had switched to using the printed-form final register to issue ballot papers since 8.12pm. The EAC requested affected voters to wait patiently. Consequently, the voting hours were extended accordingly. The EAC emphasized that the decision to extend the voting period by 1.5 hours until midnight was made as an emergency response to ensure that affected voters had a fair opportunity to cast their ballots.

Regarding concerns about potential duplicate voting and its implications for fairness, the EAC explained that the specific contingency measures included a 15-minute investigation period to ascertain the cause of the problem. Subsequently, the backup plan would be activated, involving the use of paper-based verification to confirm voters’ identities and prevent duplicate registration. The system also incorporated an encryption mechanism to detect any instances of duplicate registration. As for the possibility of human error, the EAC stated that there was currently no evidence of a network attack and that further investigations would be conducted.

Even after the scheduled end of the voting period, some citizens arrived at the polling stations as late as 10.45pm. One individual mentioned that they had initially been unable to vote due to work commitments but managed to do so thanks to the extended polling hours.

The EAC chairman, Daivid Lok, held a press conference in the evening to announce the extension of the voting period by 1.5 hours until midnight. He clarified that the counting process by the District Offices would also be delayed accordingly. The EAC described the incident as an unfortunate occurrence resulting from a problem with the back-end database, leading to intermittent delays. They expressed regret for any inconvenience caused and reiterated that the decision to extend the voting period was not intended to manipulate voter turnout but rather to ensure that all eligible voters had a fair opportunity to participate in the election.