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News Briefs

Beijing Allies Appear To Retain Firm Grip In Hong Kong Vote

With most of the vote counted, advocates of greater democracy appeared to have scored modest gains in elections here on Sunday, but fell short of winning a majority in the legislature.

Democracy proponents captured a less sizable majority than expected of the popular vote, which elects half the legislature. But democracy supporters fared better than expected among previously pro-Beijing professional groups and industries that choose the rest of the legislature’s members.

The pro-democracy opposition captured 24 seats, with a further seat the subject of a recount. Candidates leaning toward the democracy camp took two additional seats, while two independents who occasionally side with the democratic side were re-elected.

The democrats have controlled 22 seats for the past four years.

The loss of several seats in the 60-member Legislative Council still leaves Beijing fairly able to retain control of legislative developments in this former British colony, although local leaders may have to make more concessions to prevent defections. Some businessmen representing industries in the legislature have treated their legislative work as part-time jobs, and the government will need to persuade them to show up regularly for votes to avoid defeats.

Fears Of Vote Fraud In Growing Use Of Absentee Ballots

As both major political parties intensify their efforts to promote absentee balloting as a way to lock down votes in the presidential race, election officials say they are struggling to cope with an array of coercive tactics and fraudulent vote-gathering involving absentee ballots that have undermined local races across the country.

Some of those officials say they are worried that the brashness of the schemes and the extent to which critical swing states have allowed party operatives to involve themselves in absentee voting -- from handling ballot applications to helping voters fill out their ballots -- could taint the general election in November.

In the last four years, prosecutors have brought criminal cases in at least 15 states for fraud in absentee voting. One case resulted in the conviction this year of a voting-rights activist for forging absentee ballots in a Wisconsin county race. In another case, a Republican election worker in Ohio was indicted and charged with switching the votes of nursing-home residents in the 2000 presidential race. And last year in Michigan, three city council members pleaded guilty in a vote-tampering case that included forged signatures and ballots altered with white-out.