The Government today (December 13) proposed measures to improve the voter registration system. The proposals will be discussed by the Legislative Council (LegCo) Panel on Constitutional Affairs (CA Panel) on December 19.
Speaking at a press conference, the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Raymond Tam, said that in the light of the recent concerns of the community about the voter registration system, the Government has conducted a review of the existing arrangements and identified areas for improvement.
He explained that in considering possible improvement measures, the Government is guided by a number of principles.
Mr Tam said, "We attach great importance to the integrity, fairness and openness of elections.
"The voting right is a fundamental right and voter registration is voluntary. The proposed improvement measures aim at preventing voter mistakes or fraud in order to protect the fairness and credibility of elections. At the same time, they should not unreasonably deprive the permanent residents of Hong Kong of the voting right enjoyed under the Basic Law and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights.
"The proposed improvement measures should be feasible while not creating undue nuisance and disturbance to the public.
"In view of the volume of new applications and applications on change of particulars every year, and the tight time frame of the annual voter registration cycle, there is a need to strike a proper balance in the scope and intensity of checking, the period of public inspection and the resource implications."
The Government's proposals include the following measures:
The first proposal is to introduce a requirement that when a person applies for registration as a geographical constituency elector or when a registered elector applies for change of his residential address, he should provide address proof as standard supporting evidence at the same time.
Mr Tam said, "We will work with the LegCo on whether and how to take forward the necessary legislative amendments. Before any amendment is made to the relevant legislation, subject to the views of the CA Panel next week, we plan to implement the address proof requirement on an administrative basis. We plan to commence the arrangement on January 1, 2012, in order to tighten the system as soon as possible."
The second proposal is to enhance checking. On top of checking addresses with seven or more electors, the Registration and Electoral Office (REO) will step up the efforts by adding new parameters, such as when the number of surnames of electors in an address exceeds a certain figure, say four. There will also be random sampling checks on the current final register. In conducting the random sampling checks on voter registration, and the follow-up checks on undelivered poll cards, electors will be asked to provide address proof. Any suspicious cases will be referred to law enforcement agencies for follow-up.
The third proposal is to consider introducing legislative amendments to require electors to report changes of registered address to the REO, and to introduce sanction for registered electors who fail to report their change of address before the statutory deadline and subsequently vote at an election afterwards. We will examine the relevant legislation carefully, and take into account the opinion of various parties, including the LegCo.
The fourth proposal is to step up publicity measures to drive home the messages on honest and clean elections and to promote public awareness of the new arrangements.
"We plan to send a letter to all of the 3 million electors early next year, say February. The letter will appeal to them to report to the REO any change in address and to explain the new requirement on address proof," Mr Tam said.
The fifth proposal is an additional measure. The REO is liaising with the Buildings Department and the Rating and Valuation Department to conduct checking on the list of buildings which have been demolished recently and buildings which will be demolished soon. This will help identify electors who may not have reported a change in their address.
"The above new measures will incur a lot of work for the REO. For this, the REO has set up a special team headed by a Deputy Chief Electoral Officer to take forward the work. The Government will provide the necessary resources to the REO," Mr Tam added.
Mr Tam reiterated that the Government attaches utmost importance to safeguarding a clean and honest voter registration system. The number of proposals may cause inconvenience to the public and it is hoped that the public would understand. The REO and the law enforcement agencies will handle any suspicious cases seriously and tackle any offence cases in accordance with the law.
The Government's paper to the CA Panel can be downloaded from the Legislative Council's website later today.
Ends/Tuesday, December 13, 2011