BEIJING--Although he brought success to his once-dying business, money is not the only thing driving Gao Haiyan.
The young Chinese entrepreneur was moved by the sight of day laborers drawing rickshaws and being turned away at a local government office.
Gao, 35, is now attempting to spread electronic voting systems to a populace long distrustful of politics.
China remains governed under the one-party rule of the Communist Party and always ranks low on the Democracy Index, which measures the state of democracy in 167 countries. The Chinese government has not moved forward with political reform to realize free, democratic elections.
But Gao, founder of a Shanghai-based company that develops and sells electronic voting systems using mark sense cards under the Quan Hui Tong brand, noted that many elections are held in China.
“More than 100 million people are estimated to vote in residents’ committee elections each year across China,” he told a planning meeting of a major appliance maker.
Only four corporations, including Gao’s firm, handle electronic voting systems in China.
His more than 100 clients included the Chinese Medical Association and other industry organizations, as well as major state-owned companies and important government departments.
“The market remains almost untouched,” he said.
Voting and tallying at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, such as ones held in the Communist Party’s National Congress or the National People’s Congress, use voting systems of a government-affiliated maker.
The results of these votes are immediately displayed on the electric bulletin board and broadcast on television. This has gradually raised public awareness of electronic voting systems.
Gao, who once visited the United States to observe the U.S. presidential election, was born in Shandong province.
After graduating from the math department of a university in the province, Gao worked at an institute for rocket technology in Shanghai. When he was 24, he and two friends established a company that produces machines to mark the answer sheets for exams.
At first, they had trouble finding clients, and the company’s funds once dropped to 10 yuan (160 yen or $1.62). But they didn’t give up, and by 2007, they had managed to get 70 percent of universities in Shanghai to use their scoring machines.
However, sales stagnated after other companies entered the field.
Some client firms and labor associations had asked Gao’s company to develop tallying systems using mark sense cards.
So after long brainstorming sessions, his company came up with the idea of selling machines for elections.
“There is demand for electronic voting machines,” Gao said he thought at the time.
When Gao was in his junior year at university, he saw around 20 laborers drawing rickshaws in front of the main gate of a local government office building to complain to officials.
Gao, who was watching them from a distance, only heard a local government official say in a cold tone, “Both the secretary and the city mayor have returned home long ago from the back gate.”
Gao said he wondered why the government would not spare the time to hear the voices of the citizens.
He rescinded his application for Communist Party membership after seeing that incident.
Previously, Gao had felt that China needed systems that could reflect citizens’ opinions in politics so that the country can develop without violence and disruption.
The Chinese Constitution guarantees democratic elections as a means for ordinary citizens to participate in politics. It states that members of the National People’s Congress, equivalent to the Diet in Japan, “are selected by democratic election.”
The Communist Party also allows direct elections in local areas.
The voting age in China is 18.
Members of congresses of counties and low-level municipalities, as well as representatives of residents’ committees, are elected directly by citizens.
Party members also vote to choose representatives of the National Congress from among officials of government departments and state-owned companies.
However, in local people’s congress elections, party executives often work in favor of their preferred candidates, and the campaigns of competitors without the party’s backing are often disrupted. These candidates are also frequently detained by government authorities, and it is rare for them to win seats.
In addition, the prolonged time between voting and the announcement of the results has fueled speculation among citizens of improper vote counting.
“Chinese voters tend to trust the accuracy of machines more than the counting by the electoral commission,” Gao said.
But because it is also possible to rig elections through vote-counting machines, Gao founded the China Election Technology Research Center to call for the establishment of independent election inspection bodies.
Gao is currently dreaming of mass-producing his voting systems and leasing them to residents’ committees across the country.
“I hope many people have the actual feeling that their votes have become the people’s ‘voice,’ ” he said.
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