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An Investigation and Analysis on the Procedures of Villager Committee Elections

By He Xuefeng

--A Report on the Data Verification of the Villager Committee Elections in Forty Counties in Hunan Province
Research Institute of Rural Development, Jinmen Vocational and Technological Institute, Jinmen, Hubei
Translated by Yong Liu and Sindy Chen


The trial utilization of the “Computer Information System for the Villager Committee Election” (CISVCE) was initiated in August 1998.  Nine counties in Hunan, Fujian, and Jilin provinces were the first participants in the trial and were joined by 40 more counties in Hunan in 1999. Some experts in China speak highly of the system, acclaiming its innovativeness and practicality, as well as the fact that it has initiated the tracking of political statistics in China and provided the basis for the quantification and approximation of the government's policy making

In order to test the reliability of the CISVCE on various dimensions, the Ministry of Civil Affairs and the Hunan Department of Civil Affairs jointly carried out a data verification check in the forty counties, which had newly participated in the trial in Hunan.  The data verification was done at the time when the students of the Changsha Civil Institution of Vocation and Technology were back home on their summer vacation, and it was done strictly according to the principle of random sampling. The Section of Basic-level Governance of the Hunan Department of Civil Affairs determined the list of counties to be surveyed for the purpose of data verification. The students of the Changsha Civil Institution of Vocation and Technology took samples in the neighboring villages to perform the data verification.  It was requested that three villages, which were essentially located in different townships, be surveyed. In addition, three villagers, chosen randomly by the computer according to their numbers appearing in the voter roster, would also be surveyed. A member of the villager election committee, a representative or small group leader of villagers, and a newly elected Villager Committee member were to be included among those surveyed.  In practice, the survey charts that were returned indicated the coverage of 119 villages. The survey includes three charts: “Data Verification Form of the Villager Committee” for the surveyed villagers (Survey I), “Data Verification Form of the Villager Committee” for the surveyed village leaders and villager representatives (Survey II), and “Statistical Form of the Data Verification of the Villager Committee Election” (Survey III). 

By October 15, 1999, 335 Data Verification Forms of the Villager Committee Election for the surveyed villagers (Survey I), 335 Data Verification Forms of the Villager Committee for the surveyed village leaders and villager representatives (Survey II), and 115 Statistical Forms of the Data Verification of the Villager Committee Election (Survey III) were returned.
Based on these data verification returns, each procedure of the Villager Committee Election will be analyzed in the following:

I. Preparation for the Election
1. The Establishment of the Villager Election Committee
The 4th question of the Survey for village leaders and villager representatives (Survey II) read: “How is the villager election committee of the village established?”  Statistics in 354 valid survey samples show that among all the people surveyed, 42.0% chose the answer “it is elected at the Villagers’ Assembly;” 63.9% chose the answer “it is elected by the Villager Representatives’ Assembly;” 32.6% chose the answer “it is elected by groups of villagers;” only 8.2% chose the answer “it is elected by villagers;” 8.5% chose the answer “it is determined jointly by the Villager Committee and the VillageParty Branch;” 1.1% chose the answer “it is designated by the township administration.” (Since the interviewees could make more than one selection therefore the total aggregate is larger than 100%.)  Therefore, it can be inferred with a fair degree of certainty that in the 4th Election of Villager Committees in Hunan, villager election committees in most villages were established through democratic selections by the villagers in various forms.  The open selection of the members of the villager election committee became the first instance of the extensive participation in the political life of villagers in this year’s villager committee election in Hunan.

This kind of selection of the villager election committee is a clear indication of the observation of the Organic Law on the Villager Committee.  Problems in the election of Villager Committees indicate that designating the villager election committee not only results in the lack of democracy and fairness in the election, but also greatly impairs the villagers’ enthusiasm for participating in the election.  If people representing different interest groups are included in the villager election committee through democratic selection, this would establish a supervisory and credible system within a village.  This prevents the villager election committee from cheating during the election process, and at the same time, forms a certain political authority.

2. Chair of the Villager Election Committee
The 2nd question of Survey II asks: “What is the position of the chair of the villager election committee in the village?”
As the host of the election, the chair of the villager election committee plays an important role.  The capability and authoritativeness of the chair may determine the success of the election itself.  According to the data verification returns, in most villages, the secretary of the Village Party Branch acts as the chair of the villager election committee. This enables the Village Party branch to take the leading and key role in the electoral process.  It is required in some areas, either on paper or not, that the secretary of the Village Party Branch automatically becomes a member or the head of the villager election committee. The advantage of this is to fulfill the leadership role of the Party, but typically, it is better that the head of the villager election committee is elected by the members of the election committee. It is inadvisable to stipulate on paper that the secretary of the Village Party branch takes the position of the chair of the villager election committee. Among the 354 valid samples returned, 76% show that the secretary of the Village Party Branch acts as the chair of the villager election committee.

A problem that cannot be neglected in the data verification is the fact that 15.9% of the village leaders and villager representatives responded that the chair of the Villager Committee acts as the chair of the election committee. Generally, the chair of the Villager Committee has been elected by the villagers.  He is an elected official. His acting as the chair of the villager election committee makes it hard to avoid suspicion of cheating and it is possible that these actions will affect the fairness of the election.  Although it is not explicitly stipulated in the “Organic Law on the Villager Committee” that candidates for the Villager Committee cannot be elected as members of the villager election committee, it is explicitly stipulated in the “Election Regulations” of many provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions. Of course, the fact that many people chose the answer that “The chair of the Villager Committee acts as chair of the villager election committee” could be a result of misunderstanding and confusion about the conceptions of the Villager Committee and the villager election committee among many people. Again, taking the above survey as an example, 25.8% of the villager representatives and group leaders of villagers chose B; that is, “The chair of the Villager Committee acts as the chair of the villager election committee.” This rate is much higher than the 12.2% of the members of the villager election committee and the 13.3% of the elected villager committee members. This might be a result of lower participation in, and lower enthusiasm for, the politics of the villager representatives and villager group leaders than members of the election committee and the elected Villager Committee members.

Of note is the fact that 6.0% of the village leaders and villager representatives reported that the chair of the villager election committee in their villages is neither the secretary of the Village Party Branch nor the chair of the Villager Committee, but an influential and prestigious person in their village, such as a former secretary of the Village Party branch or a local celebrity.

3. Registration of the Voters 
The 6th question in Survey II asks: “Do voters have different opinions on the published roster of voters?”  Among the 351 valid samples, 91.0% of the village leaders and villager representatives indicated that they had no different opinion on the published roster of voters, while 7.2% of them indicated that they did have different opinions.  Apparently, the method by which the voters are registered is also a very complicated matter.  Typically, there are two things that complicate the problem: first, it takes a lot of time and effort to produce the roster of the registered voters; second, it is extremely difficult to decide voter eligibility.  The second is extraordinarily formidable. The criteria of a voter are not stipulated explicitly in the “Organic Law on the Villager Committee.” It is only vaguely expressed that all eligible voters should be permitted to vote.   According to the requirements of the voters in different provinces, municipalities, and autonomous regions, a voter usually has to be a permanent resident of a village and above 18 years of age.  However, in some provinces and municipalities, it is required that a voter performs various duties in the village, but he/she does not necessarily have to be a permanent resident.  This is due to the high mobility of the population in the countryside, particularly in some suburban villages around cities, where many of the residents have moved out and no longer perform any duties in these villages, while temprorary residents perform these duties. Oftentimes, any strict stipulation will, to some extent, result in unreasonableness and controversy.

II. The Nomination and Confirmation of Candidates
1. Nomination of the Preliminary Candidates
The 7th question of Survey II is: “How are the preliminary candidates nominated?  (The response can include multiple answers.)” The analysis of 353 valid samples show that there are two characteristics in the nomination of preliminary candidates in the election of Villager Committees in Hunan. First, organizational nominations are not common. The nominations by the Village Party Branch, by the township government and by the Villager Election Committee are only 3.2%, 7.1% and 1.0% respectively of the all the returns collected, and 5.4%, 11.9%, and 1.8% respectively for valid percentage rates.  Since there could be multiple responses, the nominations by the Village Party Branch, by the villager election committee, and by the township government are mixed together.  That is to say, the percentage rate of organizational nominations is approximately a little more than 10% in the 4th Election of Villager Committees in Hunan.  This is a sharp contrast to the fact that previously most candidates for the Villager Committee were nominated by villager committees and the township government. 

Second, there were few self-recommended candidates.  Among all the samples for Survey II, only 16.4% answered that people were recommending themselves during the nomination.  According to the original records of the people being surveyed, many people among that 16.4% mentioned above only meant that self-recommendation was allowed for preliminary nomination, not that people in reality did so. That is to say, the percentage of villages in which self-recommendations occurred during the preliminary nomination is actually much lower than 16.4% of the samples who reported self-nomination.

In contrast to the above two characteristics, there are various forms of nominations by the masses.  “Nomination by villagers freely associated,” “nomination by villager groups,” and “nomination by the Villager Representatives Assembly,” account for 74.7% of the returns and 24.6% of the valid percentage; (there are factors of multiple choices in the survey.)  This is enough to demonstrate the trend and tendency of nominations by voters in the 4th Election of Villager Committees in Hunan.
The 4th question of Survey I (i.e. the villager data verification survey) - which is compatible with the 7th question of Survey II – asks: “Did you participate in the nomination of the candidates for the villager committee members?”  The results show that among 355 people who answered the question, 61.4% of the villagers chose “Yes.” This is powerful evidence to indicate the pattern of answers regarding the nomination of preliminary candidates by village officials and village representatives. This shows that in most villages, voters nominated their candidates through the method of “mass voting” used during the Fourth Villager Committee Election of Hunan.

2. Determination of the Candidates
The 8th question of Survey II is: “How are the final candidates confirmed?  (The response can include multiple answers.)” This is in response to the 6th question of Survey I: “Do you know how the final candidates for the chair of the Villager Committee are determined?  (The response can include multiple answers.)” According to the statistics from the survey, the answer “It is determined at the Village Representatives’ Assembly” ranks the highest in percentage. Its valid percentages reach 73.9% and 58.6% respectively.  The two second highest are the answers “It is determined according to the preliminary nomination” and “It is determined by the preliminary nomination of the Villagers’ Assembly.”  The answers “It is determined by the Village Party Branch,” “It is determined by the township administration,” and “It is determined by the election committee of the villagers” rank last in the percentage.  Both of the above results prove that during the key procedures of confirming the final candidates in the 4th Election of Villager Committees in Hunan, the emphasis has shifted from the will of the government to the will of the people. This also could be the most important change in the election of the Villager Committee in Hunan as well as in the entire country.

However, it is important to notice that for both of the above questions, the percentage of the choice “It is determined by the VRA” is considerably high.  The valid percentage of the answer in Survey I even reached as high as 73.9%. There are a lot of advantages in the determination of the final candidates by the VRA: first, the mobilization of voters is avoided, thus saving the trouble of convening the Villagers Assembly; second, the caliber of villager representatives is relatively higher, so it is more practical that they determine the final candidates.  However, in some places, villager representatives are not elected by the villagers but are designated by the local government, and these designated representatives determine the final candidates. The process of designating representatives could be flawed because of the lack of strict standards. It could also result in the determination of candidates by the local government rather than the nomination and determination of Villager Committee candidates by voters.

Because of the fact that, generally, the final candidates are confirmed through both the voters’ preliminary nomination and pre-determination through democratic means, it is natural that the election of members of the Villager Committee cannot be completed through one round of balloting.

The 22nd question in Survey II is: “Through how many instances of polling are the members of the Villager Committee elected?”  25.1% of the village leaders and villager representatives chose “once.” This is probably due to the “sea election” (haixuan) which occurred in quite a few villages during the 4th Election in Hunan. 58.5% of the village leaders and villager representatives chose “three times or above.” The categories that need three rounds of polls are the following: the nomination of candidates by haixuan, the determination of candidates through pre-election (through the villagers assembly or villager representative assmebly, and the actual election.  Under the circumstances when more than three rounds of polls are conducted, there is usually a by-election. This shows that the three-step democratic election, encompassing democratic nomination of preliminary candidates, confirmation of final candidates through pre-election, and election through a final vote, was the dominant form in the 4th Election of Villager Committees in Hunan.

3. Does Villager Committee Election Have Multiple Candidates
The 9th question of Survey II asks: “How many final candidates are there for the chair of the Villager Committee?”  The statistics of 342 valid samples show that most villages had competitive election for the chair of the Villager Committee (85.3%). However, it is strange that 7.9% of village leaders and villager representatives answer that there are three or more final candidates for the chair of the Villager Committee in the elections in their villages. Since there is only one Villager Committee chair, when villagers cast their votes, the votes should be for one of the candidates. In this case, if there are three candidates, it is likely that none of them will gain half of the votes. To avoid this, two final candidates for the chair of the Villager Committee are determined through one or more rounds of voting in most places in the country. In the survey, 7.9% of the village leaders and villager representatives chose “more than three times.” There could be three reasons for this: first, there are indeed three or more final candidates for the chair of the Villager Committee in some villages, but instead of gaining more than half of the votes, the candidates have to gain the most votes to be elected; second, the village leaders and villager representatives took the preliminary candidates as the final candidates by mistake; third, in some villages, haixuan is practiced and there are no final candidates, and some village leaders and villager representatives take this situation as three or more final candidates. The third is the most probable situation.

If compared with the 5th question of Survey I, the possibility of misunderstanding is more clearly assured.  The question reads: “Do you know how many final candidates there are for the chair of the Villager Committee?”  5.1% chose “one,” which is very close to the percentage in Survey II, but there were apparently many more people who chose “three or more.” The probable reason is as stated above, and it is even more likely for the villagers than for the village leaders and village representatives to take the haixuan as a situation where there were three or more final candidates.  Also they may have taken the number of preliminary candidates as the number of final candidates by mistake.

4. Campaigning Strategy
The 10th question of Survey II and the 7th question of Survey I are the same: “How did the candidates of the Villager Committee introduce themselves to the villagers?  (The response can include multiple answers.)” The data verification shows as the following:


Members of the VEC

VR/VSGL

Elected Members of the VC

Other

Total

Visiting Villagers in their Homes

3;     1.9% 

2;     2.3%

6;     3.3

1;     1.3%

12; 2.4%; 3.4% (VP)

Speech at VA

33;    20.9%

18;   20.5% 

36;    20%

13;    16.3%

100; 19.9%; 28.7% (VP)

Speech at the VRA

53;    33.5%

24;    27.3%

48;    26.7%

32;    40%

157;  31.2%;  45% (VP)

Speech at the Election Meeting

28;    17.7%

18;    20.5%

34;    18.9%

12;    15%

92; 18.3%; 26.4% (VP)

Introduced by VEC via TV or Other Means

15;    9.5%

6;      22%

22;    12.2% 

8;        10%

51;  10.1%; 14.6% (VP)

Introduced by Advocates

4;     2.5%

3;     3.4%

11;    6.1%

1;     1.3%

19;    3.08%; 5.4% (VP)

No Introduction

13;    8.2%

12;    13.6%

16;    8.9%

6;     7.5%

47;  9.3%; 13.5 (VP)

Other

8;     5.1%

4;     4.5%

7;     3.9%

6;     7.5%

25;   5%

Don't Know

1;     0.2

1;     0.2%

0;     0%

1;     0.2%

3;     0.5%

Subtotal

158;   100%

88;    100%

180;  100%

80;   100%

506;  100%


Choices

Respondents

Per Person Percentage

Valid Percentage

Visiting Villagers in their Homes

14

3%

3.9%

Speech at the VA

133

30.7%

37.4%

Speech at the VRA

115

26.6%

32.4%

Speech at the Election Meeting

105

24.2%

29.6%

Introduced by VEC via TV or Other Means

42

9.7%

11.8%

Introduced by Advocates

18

4.2%

5.1%

No Introduction

64

14.8%

18%

Other

25

5.8%

7%

Don't Know

22

5.1%

6.2%

Subtotal

433

100%

122%

Valid samples: 355


Glossary of the Abbrieviation

VC=Villager Committee

VEC=Villager Election Committee

VR=Villager Representative

VP=Valid Percentage

VRA=Villager Representative Assembly

VSGR=Villager Small Group Leaders


It is clear from the above charts that most of the candidates for the Villager Committee introduced themselves by giving speeches in public places, while a few did this either through visiting villagers in their homes or through an introduction by their advocates. As many as 10% of the population believes that candidates are not introduced during Villager Committee elections. 

In the election of Villager Committees, the choice of the villagers is based on their knowledge of the candidates. Capable villagers, who are interested in running for the villager committee, need a chance to introduce their capabilities and make promises to the public. However, because of the value of “face” that is common in the countryside, if candidates introduce themselves and their capabilities by visiting villagers in their homes or having their advocates introduce them, they are regarded as “shameless” or “without face.”  Therefore, few candidates introduced themselves under normal circumstances.  Another result of this approach is that unless there is a category of “giving an election speech” in the election procedure that is stipulated by the higher level of the government, the candidates will not have the chance to show their capabilities and make promises to the public. According to the statistics of the abovementioned data verification, over 70% of the villages in Hunan Province used various methods to introduce the candidates before the beginning of the official casting of ballots for Villager Committee elections.

III. Casting the Vote
1. The Distribution of Voter Identification Cards
The 11th question of Survey II is: “Do you have to show voter identification cards to receive a ballot?”  It is related to the 3rd question of Survey I: “Are you given voter identification cards by the election committee of your village before the election?”  According to the statistics from the survey, after the registration of voters, the election committee distributed voter identification cards, (the percentages are respectively 83.5% and 90.7%.)  The voter’s identification card is proof of the franchise, so villagers take it very seriously. The distribution of voter identification cards and the requirement of presenting these cards before casting ballots give the Villager Committee election a sense of seriousness.  This is important to the development of the symbolization of political rights and the improvement of political knowledge among villagers.

2. The Place and Means for the Casting of Votes
In the surveys, the 12th and 13th questions of Survey II, and the 8th question of Survey I deal with the location of ballot casting.
The 12th question of Survey II reads: “Where do voters cast their votes on the election day?  (The response can include multiple answers.)” Among 349 valid samples, 27.7% chose “Voters cast their votes at the venue where the election is held;” 42.7% chose “Voters cast their votes at mobile ballot boxes;” and another 48.9% chose “Voters cast their votes either at the venue where the election is held or at the mobile ballot boxes.”  Obviously these are the two major means by which votes were cast in the 4th Election of Villager Committees in Hunan. In a few villages, there were polling stations for villagers to cast their votes.
The 8th question of Survey I asks: “How did you cast your vote in the election?  (The response can include multiple answers.)” The returns show that 39.4% of the villagers say that they cast their votes at mobile ballot boxes, while the valid percentage for this is even higher: 49%. This percentage is close to and in accordance with that of the responses from the villager leaders and villager representatives.

Casting votes at mobile ballot boxes will save a great deal of time for the villagers during voting, and thus effectively improve the villagers’ participation rate in the election.  This method is especially necessary in certain remote mountain villages. Therefore, in most cases, mobile ballot boxes had been set up at the same time the election meeting was held. However, since mobile ballot boxes do not easily facilitate the procedure of secret voting, and thereby raise the suspicions of the voters, this method should be adopted with caution.

The 13th question of Survey II is: “Has the election meeting or voting station set up secret voting booths?”  The results show that 61.2% of village leaders and village representatives say, “Yes,” while 37.7% say “No.”  This demonstrates that the 14th article of the formally promulgated and implemented “the Organic Law on Villager Committees" which states that “When casting votes, a secret voting booth should be set up,” has been implemented to a great extent and has a far-reaching effect among the voters.

Comparing these results with the 8th question of Survey I, and calculating the percentage per voter, we can see that 22.0% and 15.5% of the villagers, respectively, have chosen to complete the ballot in the secret voting booth located at the election meeting or voting station, while only 18.1% of villagers chose “Completing the ballots in public places.” Thus, we must admit that the principle of secret ballot completion had been implemented during the 4th Villager Committee Election of Hunan.
Needless to say, the “secret ballot” is a vital principle in contemporary election systems. What needs to be mentioned here is not the establishment of secret voting booths, but an emphasis on the fact that voters have to complete the ballots inside the secret voting booths, and that certain procedures exist to guarantee that voters vote in the secret voting booths. 

3. Proxy Voting
The 14th and 15th questions in Survey II both deal with proxy voting. In Survey I, the 8th question is concerning proxy voting. The 14th question of Survey II is: “How many proxy votes can a voter cast?” while the 15th question of Survey II is: “Is a written proxy voter authorization notice needed when someone else is obtaining proxy ballots?”

Answers for the 14th question of Survey II indicate that 59.5% of villagers and villager representatives choose “3 ballots,” which is in accordance with the regulations of Hunan Province and indicates that the provincial regulation went deep into the villager committee election. 25.4% of village leaders and villager representatives have chosen “2 ballots” and 8.5% chose “1 ballot,” while only 0.6% of village officials and villager representatives choose “4 ballots or more.” In addition to this, 6.1% of village leaders and village representatives choose “proxy voting is not allowed.”  There is one issue worth special attention here: the above data regarding proxy voting has indicated that almost all the village leaders and village representatives have chosen responses of “3 proxy ballots or less,” a number which is equal or less than the number of proxy ballots allowed by the Electoral Measures adopted by the Hunan Provincial People’s Congress. This indicates that most Villager Committee elections in Hunan have adopted the “holding back” policy in administering the proxy ballots; that is, attempting to reduce the number of proxy ballots to its minimum level. In analyzing the 8th question of Survey I, we found that among the 347 villagers in the random sample analysis, only 8 voters asked other people to cast proxy votes for them. This can also serve as a partial evidence of the “holding back” tendency of Hunan province when they deal with the proxy voting.

Results of the 15th question of Survey II show that, 53.7% of village leaders and village representatives choose “Yes,” and 37.4% said “No.” The major issue here is not only whether or not a written authorization notice of proxy ballots should be presented, but also how the notices are confirmed and who should be responsible for verifying the notice to ensure that the authorization is written by the voter him/herself. According to the “Organic Law on the Villager Committee," the villager election committee has the right to confirm and verify the authenticity of the written proxy voting authorization notice.  In other words, the villager election committee must abide by this step before the voters obtain the proxy ballots. It is the responsibility of the villager election committee to discuss and determine the persons who have the right to obtain proxy ballots for other voters. After discussion by the villager election committee, it is likely that instead of a written notice, a proxy ballot certificate will be required to obtain the proxy ballots. Therefore, it is rather pointless to regulate whether or not a written notice should be presented upon obtaining the proxy ballots.

4. The Counting of Ballots and Announcement of Election Results
Whether the calculation of the ballots is conducted in front of the public and whether the results of the election are announced immediately at the election meeting are two important indicators of the democratization and standardization of the villager committee election.  The 18th and 19th questions of Survey II, and the 9th question of Survey I have focused on this issue. The 18th question of Survey II asks: “Is the counting of the ballots conducted in front of the voters?” while the 9th question of Survey I is: “Do you know how the ballots were calculated?” The 19th question of Survey II asks: “Is the result of the election announced immediately after the vote tabulation is completed?”

In answering the 18th and 19th questions of Survey II, 57.3% of village leaders and villager representatives and 47.7% of villagers choose “The tabulation of the ballots is conducted openly in front of all the voters.” 36.3% of village officials/village representatives and 35.8% of villagers choose “The tabulation of the ballots is conducted openly in front of the villager representatives.” If the definition of “tabulation of the ballots in public” includes both counting in front all the voters and counting in front of the villager representatives, the percentage of “Yes” in answering the above two questions by village leaders/villager representatives and villagers will reach 93.6% and 83.5% respectively. This demonstrates that, in general, the 4th Villager Committee Election of Hunan has implemented the policy of counting the ballots openly.

We still notice that 15% of villager representatives/villager small group heads and 8.2% of villagers chose “The tabulation of ballots is processed by the villager election committee only.” This indicates that despite the fact that most villages have done fairly well in counting the ballots openly, there are still a few villages that did not count the ballots in public, and therefore the procedure is not standardized. This problem is largely caused by the fact that certain villager electing committees prefer to take short cuts in the election.

In answering the 19th question of Survey I – “Are the results of the election announced immediately after the ballots are tabulated?” 93.4% of village leaders and villager representatives choose “Yes,” while only 1.4% of village leaders/villager representatives choose “The results are announced the next day or even later.” If we verify the answer according to the titles held by the respondents of the survey, we notice that except for the slightly higher percentage of respondents who are villager representatives/villager team heads in choosing “The election results are not announced on the spot but sometime during the election day,” the remaining respondents chose similar answers.  This indicates that most village election committee members announced election results on the spot during the 4th Villager Committee Election of Hunan Province.

5. Whether or not Multiple Rounds of Balloting Are Used
The 17th question of Survey II asks: “Were the villager committee chair, vice chair, and committee members elected at the same time or separately?”  The analysis of 346 valid samples confirms that 52.6% of respondents chose “Elected at the same time,” and 46.5% of respondents chose “Elected separately.” Therefore, the ratio of electing the villager committee chair, vice chairs, and committee member simultaneously and electing them separately was approximately 1:1 during the 4th Villager Committee Election of Hunan Province.

A major drawback of direct elections is that there is a possibility where candidates with better reputation and capabilities have lost the election to less competent candidates. In other words, if the differential candidate system is adopted, there have to be at least two candidates for the position of villager committee chair.  And those who have been chosen as the candidates (especially those who have obtained the candidacy through preliminary election) for the position of villager committee chair have gained substantial support among the villagers of their villages.  Therefore, if the positions of villager committee chair, vice chair and committee members are to be elected at the same time, one of the two candidates for the chair position will lose the election.  And once he/she loses, there is no opportunity for this individual to run for the position of vice chair or even committee member.  Because of this, candidates that are more competent will often withdraw from the race for the chair position, and switch to the race for vice chair or committee members.  Then the villager committee chair election will become a “side election” or even “an election with one candidate.”

Electing villager committee chair, vice chair, and committee members separately may solve the above problem.  However, there are some difficulties in time arrangement, including the issue of whether or not these separate elections are completed within a single day. If the election is scheduled to be completed within one day, it will be necessary to tabulate the ballots immediately upon the completion of villager committee chair election, and announce the result of the election on the spot.  Then, the elections of vice chairs and committee members will be conducted, followed by the tabulation of ballots and announcement of the election results.  This method will extend the election time in some villages with a large voter population. In the case that two candidates of similar profiles and competence are competing with each other for the position of villager committee chair, and neither of them can obtain over half of the ballots, this “dead-lock” renders it impossible to conduct elections of vice chairs and committee members.  If these separate elections are not held in one day, multiple election meetings will have to be organized, and this will increase the workload of the villager election committee, and lead to resistance and annoyance from the voters. 

V. Turnout Rate and Level of Competition
This data verification activity not only requires the verification personnel to fill out Survey I (for villagers) and Survey II (for village leaders and villager representatives), but also requires them to fill in Survey III according to the original files of villager committee elections. There are three categories in Survey III: “Basic Information,” “Voting Information,” and “Votes Spread.” There are three sub-categories under the “Basic Information” – Total village population, voters of the village who are 18 years old or older, and the number of registered voters in this election.  There are four sub-categories in “Voting Information” – Total ballots, total invalid ballots, total proxy ballots, total ballots cast in roving boxes. Finally, there are six sub-categories in “Votes Spread” – total ballots earned by the elected villager committee chair, total ballots earned by the runner-up, total ballots of the third place candidate who lost the election, total ballots earned by the first elected villager committee vice chair, total ballots of the second elected villager committee vice chair, and total ballots of the candidate who lost the election.  115 valid Survey III samples have been returned, and in the following we will conduct a data analysis according to these samples.

1. Turnout Rate
The result shows that the voting rate is 94.6%, which is remarkably high. In verifying the samples of Survey III, there are 47 villages with a voting rate of 100%, and there are 18 other villages with a voting rate of 98% or above. Obviously, proxy voting plays an important role in achieving such a high voter turnout. It would be impossible to achieve such a high voting rate if the rule of conducting proxy voting with a written authorization form had been strictly followed.  Since there are some voters/family absent in each village, it is impossible for them to complete the voting in a written form.
As we have seen from the data verification, proxy votes have been used by many places to achieve high voter turnout rates during the 4th Villager Committee Election of Hunan.  However, we are glad to see that the limitation on the number of proxy votes and the requirement of verifying written proxy authorization notices in Hunan province could curb greatly the malpractice in proxy voting.

The results show that the average rate of proxy voting is 16.1% during this year’s Villager Committee Election of Hunan province, which is not a very high rate. If we deduct the proxy votes, the turnout rate of the villagers still reaches 78.5%. This indicates that the villagers have been actively involved and participated in the 4th Villager Committee Election of Hunan Province. This trend can also been seen from the villagers’ answers to the 2nd question of the random data verification. The 2nd question of Survey I asks: “Did you vote in the recent villager committee election?”  The results show that among the 353 valid samples, 96.9% of villagers said “Yes.” One thing needs mentioning here: since the data verification is conducted in the villages, it is impossible for the investigators to interview those villagers who are not in the village during the interview.  It is possible that this portion of villagers may not have participated in voting in the previous elections. Therefore, the randomly sampled villagers who have been interviewed may have a higher voting rate than their counterparts.

The key solution in raising the turnout rate by means other than applying the proxy voting method is to build the voters’ awareness of the effectiveness of the political system, as well as their sense of political responsibility.  Therefore, there are two factors that have an important impact upon raising the turnout rate: First, the intensity of the election.  Intensified competition will make both sides of the race mobilize their supporters with energy, and the network among these voters will put pressure on each voter to participate, since nonparticipation in the voting will be considered as unwillingness to offer support to the candidates.  The second factor is concerned with whether compensation incentives are distributed to villagers once they have participated in the election.  A small number of voters who have little political vision have participated in the election for nothing but the lively atmosphere of the election and the compensation (of course, they only represent a very small portion of the voters.)  Most of these compensations have only a symbolic meaning, such as being counted as a volunteer working day (a peasant will have to work 5 to 10 days for the village for free every year as required by the government), or 5 yuan per person in cash.  There were three questions in the survey that dealt with these issues.

The 20th question of Survey II reads: “Did you get compensation for participating in the voting?” and the 21st question reads: “If you have received compensation, what type of compensation is it?” The results show that 26.1% of village leaders answered “Yes,” and 71.9% of village officials answered “No.” Among the 90 persons who answered “Yes,” 40.8% of village leaders consider the kind of compensation as equivalent of “a volunteer work day;” 26.8% of leaders said “receiving cash;” and 1.7% of leaders say “receiving goods.”

2. Level of Competition
The intensity of the villager committee election competition can be determined by comparing the votes spread of the candidate who is elected and the candidates who have lost the election. Generally speaking, unless one candidate is extremely outstanding, there are usually two candidates who are evenly matched in strength. The analysis indicates that the elected villager committee chair received, on average, 67.0% of the vote, and that the first runner-up who lost the election received, on average, 32.3% of the vote.  This shows that the intensity of the competition in the villager committee election in Hunan this year is fairly high. Among the 115 samples of Survey III returned, 39 villager committee chairs received lower than 60% of the ballots cast, which is 34.2% of the total samples.  Among them, 8 villager committee chairs obtained 50%- 51% of the ballots cast, which is 70% of the total samples.  30 candidates who ran for the position of villager committee chair received greater than 40% of the vote, which is equivalent to 27.5% of the total samples.  The first elected vice chair of the villager committee received, on average, 65.1% of the vote, which is lower than the percentage of votes received by the elected chair.

One thing worth mentioning here: Some regions of Hunan province have directly borrowed the haixuan method used by Lishu county (a county in Jilin Province, also a pilot province of The Carter Center’s Village Election Project) in 1998, although there is a slight difference.  Lishu used “single candidate voting,” that is, the voters can only vote for the positions of the villager committee.  However, quite a few places in Hunan province have used “differential candidate voting” when adopting Lishu’s haixuan method, that is, allowing one person to vote for more candidates than the actual number of positions.  The reason for this is that most villager election committee members thought that it was easier to have the villager committee candidates elected directly by using the haixuan method.  However, in doing so, a situation in which the total number of ballots for the elected villager committee chair and the candidates who lost the election exceeds the number of the total voters will become quite common.  In verifying the samples of Survey III, we find that in 32 villages, which is about 29.4% of 109 valid samples (in which the first runner-up lost the election for chair position), the total number of ballots received by the elected villager committee chair and the first runner-up candidate who lost the election exceeded 100% of the number of voters.  In another 10 villages, (about 9.1% of the valid samples,) the first runner-up for the chair position received more than 50% voting rate.

3. Invalid Ballots
Among the 115 samples returned, 97 of them clearly identified the number of the invalid ballots, and the average number of invalid ballots rate based on these samples is as high as 5.2%.

We refer to the following three types of ballots as the so-called “invalid ballots”: First, the number of candidates chosen by the voter exceeds the number allowed; Second, the number of positions and staff members elected exceed the number allowed; Third, the ballot is not clearly completed or is not completed using the required symbols. Generally speaking, the high rate of invalid ballots is caused by the fact that villager committee elections have only been implemented for a short period of time, and many villagers do not have a high level of education and do not know how to complete a ballot. It is not surprising to see a high rate of invalid ballots due to these technical reasons. We believe that as more and more village elections are held, technical problems caused by the voters will decrease greatly, and thus, so will the rate of the invalid ballots.

VI. Basic Conclusions
Based on the above results, we believe that the villager committee election in Hunan Province has reached a certain level of standardization and was generally democratic. We predict that this development will increase in speed and reach more regions upon the formal promulgation of the “Organic Law on the Villager Committee,” and that the standardization of villager self-government, with the villager committee elections as its core, will also be achieved faster than we predicted before.  After carefully analyzing the above results, we made the following conclusions:

1. Nearly every step in the villager committee election has been carefully considered

First, Mobilizing the Masses: In-depth and wide-range.

In looking at the turnout rate of this election, we found that, compared with the turnout rate of previous elections, the rate for this election has not increased, but decreased instead. However, since this election has implemented more strict policies in processing proxy voting and presenting written authorization notice of proxy ballots than in the previous three elections, the proxy voting rate decreased, while the number of voters who participated in the actual election increased. At the same time, the survey shows that the villagers’ awareness of their political rights, as well as their passion for participating in the election, has been gradually built up.

The high turnout rate during the 4th Villager Committee Election of Hunan Province indicates that many villagers had a real understanding of “The Organic Law on the Villager Committee” before the election, and that they now have a new grasp on their own rights to vote.  From another perspective, this is also reflected in the fact that local governments at all levels have consciously publicized the election and mobilized the masses.

Second, Candidate Nomination: Complicated but No Chaotic 

Due to the fact that many places in Hunan democratically nominated the candidates though different methods, there are two distinct characteristics of candidate nominations: The first is the large number of voters participating in the nomination process, and the second is the large number of people who are nominated as preliminary candidates. The data verification survey indicates that, among the 355 villagers who were randomly sampled, 218 villagers participated in the nomination of the villager committee candidates, which results in the high rate of 61.4%. Originally, this data verification survey did not include a question concerning the number of preliminary candidates; however, 58% of village officials and villager representatives claim that the final quota of villager committee positions cannot be decided until three or more elections have been conducted in their villages. We are almost certain that such procedure is derived from the regulation which states “If the number of candidates nominated for the villager committee members exceeds the number allowed, a villager assembly should be held by the villager election committee, or a pre-election should be held by villager representative assembly with the authorization of the villager assembly, and the final candidates will be selected according to the ballots they receive.”  The absence of chaos of the nomination stage refers to not only the standardization of procedures in nominating candidates during the whole process of the election, but also the implementation of the “differential candidate voting” principle by most villages during the formal elections.  The results of the survey show that, 93.2% of village leaders and villager representatives say that the number of formal candidates for the village chair position is 2 or more than 2 in their villages, and 89% of villagers chose the same answer.  Generally speaking, there is a relatively high voter turnout, and the final candidates usually have strong support from the voters. The election appears fairer and more dramatic when two equally competent candidates compete against each other.

Third, Formal Election: Intense but Orderly

The high turnout rate and the intensity of competition in this election indicate that the 4th Villager Committee Election of Hunan was a highly competitive one. As we mentioned earlier, among the 115 valid samples (i.e. original data records – Survey III) obtained during the data verification, 39 villager committee chairs received less than 60% of the votes, which is of 34.2% of the total samples.  8 of them obtained between 50%-51% of the votes, which is 7% of the total valid samples. 30 villager committee candidates who lost their elections received more than 40% of the votes, that is, 27.5% of the total valid samples. The competitiveness for candidates running for vice chair positions was similar to that of the race for the chair positions.  As we have seen from the average votes received by the elected villager committee chairs and the candidates who lost the elections, the average rate of votes received by the elected candidates is 67%, and 32.3% for the runners-up.  The first elected vice chair received only 65.1% of the votes.  All of these can indicate the intensity of the competition during this year’s election in Hunan Province, and it is quite possible that many elected villager committee members might have lost their positions due to the slim margin of a single ballot.

The orderliness of the election is mainly reflected in three aspects: First, secret ballot booths have been set up widely. As we have seen from the election meetings and the voting stations, secret voting booths have been widely set up in most villages and most villagers filled in their ballots in private. Second, there is strict regulation regarding proxy voting. The survey shows that most villages have set up a maximum number of ballots for each proxy voter, and many villagers are required to present a written authorization notice when they obtain proxy votes for other voters, and so on. Third, it is mandatory to count the ballots in public and announce the results of the election on the spot. The results of the data verification indicate that 93% of village leaders/villager representatives and 83.5% of villagers believe that, in their village, the ballots are counted in front of all the voters or villager representatives. 93.4% of village leaders/villager representatives say that, in their villages, the results of the election are announced on the spot. The widespread problems during previous elections, such as the lack of secret balloting, the abuse of proxy voting, the chaotic tabulation of the ballots, and the delayed announcement of election results, have been gradually corrected and standardized.  This indicates that elections in Hunan have become more organized and standardized not only in conducting elections, but also in dealing with the technical issues of elections.

2. Two questions worth considering
First, too many ballots cast in the roving ballot boxes can lead to “connection voting” and malpractice in elections. The results of the 8th question of Survey I indicate that 49% of villagers admitted that they voted in mobile voting boxes. This is not normal. Generally speaking, roving ballot boxes could be used in some remote, mountainous areas; and such a method could also be used to accommodate the voting needs of senior citizens and those who are physically sick or weak. However, roving ballot boxes should not be used in other occasions.  If there are no strict regulations on how to use roving ballot boxes, the quality of villager committee elections will be affected, and the principles of fairness and openness cannot be well implemented.

Second, there was a great variation in dealing with the nomination of preliminary candidates and the confirmation of formal candidates among various regions. The “Organic Law on the Villager Committee” has not clearly identified regulations on how to nominate candidates directly by the villagers who are eligible to vote, nor has it clearly stated how the formal candidates be chosen.  Because of this, different regions have employed various methods to nominate and determine formal candidates, based on the general principle of democratic nomination of candidates. Let’s take the process of determining formal candidates as an example. The survey indicates there were four methods represented in the election, including determination through Villagers Assembly Preliminary Election (21.9%, 31.5%), through villager representative assembly preliminary election (73.9%, 58.6%), according to the ballots received during the preliminary nomination (30.1%, 29.6%), and by villager election committee (9.9%, 18.6%).  If we look at these four methods from the perspective of democratic nomination, the first three methods among the four can definitely be classified as democratic nomination. However, as there is no clear definition on how democratic nominations should occur, it is possible that, on the one hand, a nomination solution that is suitable to certain local village situations will emerge in some villages, while on the other hand, in other villages, a procedure may be implemented without reflecting the voters’ needs. Therefore, it is not only necessary but also very crucial to further regulate the procedures of nominating and determining candidates.