Chinese officials failed to use a secret ballot system and gave misleading information to voters in district-level legislative elections in Beijing Tuesday, making it harder for voters to back anyone but government-backed candidates, political activists say.
Voters were asked to choose 4,349 delegates to their local-level National People's Congress (NPC), but not one of the 13 known independent candidates who put their names forward made the final list of 6,615 officially approved candidates.
Political activists who went to vote early on Tuesday reported widespread irregularities with the voting process.
"There were about four employees seated around the place where people were filling in their ballots," said Ye Qinghuan, whose attempt to register formally as an independent candidate in elections to local lawmaking bodies sparked surveillance and threats from the authorities.
Ye, who voted on Tuesday in her home district of Xicheng at a polling station on Zhanlan Road, said she had to ask about secrecy before she was offered the chance to use a polling booth away from public view.
"The staff told me if I wanted secrecy then I could use the place next to their table; that it was OK not to let them see."
"But most of the people I saw just filled out there ballot paper at the table where the staff were sitting," she said.
Ye's sister Ye Qingchun said she was misled about how to fill in her ballot paper, in which voters were asked to pick two candidates from a list of three Party-backed candidates and a column titled "vote for another person" with a space to write a person's name.
"I chose one of the candidates from our apartment complex and I ticked the box that said 'vote for another person' and wrote in my own name," Ye Qingchun said. "The staff member told me that I hadn't picked two people and that my ballot would be regarded as spoiled."
Meanwhile, in the western district of Haidian, would-be candidate Han Ying said staff had asked her to become an election observer.
"I refused," Han said. "Now my life may even be in danger, so I said I wouldn't do it."
Han made it onto a preliminary list of 21 candidates last month, but was eliminated following a final selection meeting that she was prevented from attending by police.
"I voted," Han said. "I selected 'vote for another person,' and then I wrote my own name in the box."
Authorities in Beijing had stepped up surveillance and harassment of political activists ahead of polling day, closing their online accounts and holding them under house arrest, activists said.
Han's family has been held under tight surveillance and prevented from leaving the apartment since she began campaigning as an independent election candidate.
Votes were also being cast on Tuesday in the southwestern province of Guizhou, with activists there also attempting to register a voice outside the ruling Communist Party through the use of the "vote for another person" option.
Chen Xi, who was unofficially detained by police and taken out of town to prevent him from registering as a candidate, said he had been accompanied to his polling station by police.
"I only got my polling card at lunchtime, and I was taken to the polling station by the state security police and the local police," Chen said.
"They were all officially approved candidates," he said of the ballot paper. "There were no independent candidates."
"I picked on official candidate from my apartment complex, because we have had a lot of dealings lately and he was the only one I recognized."
"I wrote my own name in the 'vote for someone else' column."
In September, China's powerful central propaganda department ordered official media not to cover any activities by independent election candidates, which officials have said do not not exist.
"In order to demonstrate the superiority of Chinese socialist democracy and people as the master of the country, all media outlets are to actively publicize local election for representatives of the People’s Congress," according to a Sept. 26 directive, translated and verified by the China Digital Times.
It added: "Please note: News reports regarding independent candidates or election workshops are strictly prohibited."
Apart from a token group of "democratic parties" which never oppose or criticize the ruling Communist Party, opposition political parties are banned in China, and those who set them up are frequently handed lengthy jail terms.
More than two million lawmakers at the county and township levels will be elected during nationwide elections, held every five years, in more than 2,000 counties and 30,000 townships from May 7, 2011 through December 2012.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.