Following is a question by the Hon Wong Yuk-man and a reply by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Raymond Tam, in the Legislative Council today (November 23):
I have received cases seeking assistance that eligible electors undergoing treatment in hospitals were not allowed, on health grounds, to be released on the days of Legislative Council Election and District Council Elections respectively to vote, and the Registration and Electoral Office (REO) did not have any corresponding administrative measures to assist this group of electors. In respect of measures assisting electors who are unable to complete the voting procedure on their own, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) whether REO will send staff to all hospitals to assist in-patient electors in voting in future elections; and
(b) whether REO will make corresponding arrangements to assist elderly electors with limited mobility who live in residential care homes for the elderly in voting on election days?
(a) According to section 34(1) of the Electoral Affairs Commission (Electoral Procedure) (District Councils) Regulation (the Regulation) (Cap. 541F), for every contested election, at least 10 days before polling day, the Chief Electoral Officer must send a poll card to each elector. Section 34(3) of the Regulation further stipulates that the Chief Electoral Officer must state in the poll card the polling station at which the elector must cast his or her vote. Similar provisions are also contained in the Electoral Affairs Commission (Electoral Procedure) (Legislative Council) Regulation (Cap. 541D).
To facilitate electors to vote, the Registration and Electoral Office (REO) will attach to the poll card sent to each elector a location map of the allocated polling station. This arrangement is applicable to all electors, including electors who are hospitalised for treatment.
The REO has considered whether polling stations could be set up in hospitals in the light of the experience of setting up dedicated polling stations (DPSs) inside penal institutions. Under the polling arrangement for DPSs inside penal institutions, the REO will prepare in advance the extracts of poll registers for the polling staff in DPSs to check whether an elector is eligible to vote. The REO will also put in place special arrangement to update these extracts so as to reflect the situation on the polling day.
However, the situation in hospitals is different from that in penal institutions. Penal institutions usually have no intake/discharge of electors on the polling day, which is usually a Sunday, while hospitals may admit and discharge many patients on the polling day. Given the high mobility of patients in hospitals, it is impossible to update the relevant extracts of the poll register on the polling day even with a substantial input of manpower and resources. Under such circumstances, it is possible that a patient who has already voted at a polling station in a hospital, may later go to his/her allocated ordinary polling station to vote again. Likewise, it is also possible that an elector who is admitted to hospital after voting at an ordinary polling station may vote again at the polling station in the hospital.
Moreover, even if polling stations are set up at designated places in the hospitals, the hospitalised electors still have to go to those places to vote. As such, bedridden electors may not be able to benefit from this arrangement. If ballot papers are to be issued by polling staff to patients in their beds to enable these bedridden electors to vote, the secrecy of vote may easily be compromised. Furthermore, if the hospitals have to deploy healthcare staff to assist patients to vote, the workload of these healthcare staff will increase, thus affecting the daily operation of the hospitals.
Lastly, there is also a possibility of outbreak of infectious disease close to or on the polling day, which renders the hospitals not suitable for setting up polling stations. The REO will have difficulty in identifying alternative venues which are suitable for use as polling stations on short notice.
To conclude, we consider it difficult to pursue the proposal of setting up polling stations in hospitals at the present stage.
(b) According to section 33(3) of the Regulation, the Chief Electoral Officer must allocate to an elector a polling station that is, as far as practicable, close to his or her registered residential address.
If an elector with a disability or has to use wheelchair finds that the polling station allocated to him/her is inaccessible to wheelchair-bound or disabled electors, he/she can apply to the REO by phone or by fax five days before the polling day for re-allocating another polling station accessible to him/her. The applicant will then be allocated to a polling station close to his/her residence and suitable for use by wheelchair-bound or disabled persons. If circumstances permit, the REO will also through the Hong Kong Society for Rehabilitation arrange Rehabus service for wheelchair-bound or disabled electors to transport them to and from the polling stations. This arrangement is applicable to all electors, including elderly electors with mobility difficulty who live in residential care homes.
The REO has made every effort in every election to identify venues suitable for use by wheelchair-bound or disabled persons as polling stations. If possible, the REO will install temporary ramps at inaccessible polling stations so that they can be accessible to electors with mobility difficulty. In the recent District Council Election, over 90 per cent of the polling stations are accessible to electors who have mobility difficulty or have to use wheelchairs. The percentage is higher than that in the previous elections.
We will continue our efforts in improving the relevant electoral arrangements.
Ends/Wednesday, November 23, 2011