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LCQ22: Residential requirement for registered electors

     Following is a question by the Hon Emily Lau and a written reply by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Raymond Tam, in the Legislative Council today (November 5):

     Under section 28(1) of the Legislative Council Ordinance (Cap. 542), one of the eligibility criteria for registration as an elector in the register of geographical constituencies is that the person must ordinarily reside in Hong Kong. The authorities conducted a public consultation from January to March 2012 on the improvement measures of the voter registration (VR) system. In April of the same year, the authorities indicated in the consultation report that during the consultation, they had received public views on the definitions of "ordinarily reside in Hong Kong" and "principal residential address" in relation to VR, but such definitions were outside the scope of the consultation exercise and were complicated issues that had to be handled carefully by the fourth-term Government. Meanwhile, it was reported in May this year that a member of the public had complained to the Registration and Electoral Office (REO) that there were a number of suspected vote rigging cases in his constituency during a District Council (DC) by-election. Upon investigation, REO found that in those cases, some electors were currently not residing in their registered addresses due to various reasons, and REO indicated that it was taking follow-up actions. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether the fourth-term Government has handled the aforesaid issue regarding the definition of "ordinarily reside in Hong Kong"; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(2) if it has assessed whether electors no longer residing or working in their registered constituencies but continuing to vote in that constituency will render it impossible for elected members (especially DC members) to effectively take care of the interests of electors; if the assessment outcome is in the affirmative, whether the Government has put in place any improvement measure; if the assessment outcome is in the negative, of the reasons for that?


Mr President,

(1) According to section 28(1) of the Legislative Council Ordinance (Cap. 542), a person is not eligible to be registered as an elector in the register of geographical constituencies unless, at the time of applying for registration, the person satisfies the Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) that he/she ordinarily resides in Hong Kong and that the residential address provided is the person's only or principal residence in Hong Kong.

     The Government has repeatedly pointed out in the relevant discussions at the Panel on Constitutional Affairs of the Legislative Council that the definition of "ordinarily resides in Hong Kong" is a complicated issue: the definition of "ordinarily resides in Hong Kong" is not set out in the existing legislation; whether a person "ordinarily resides in Hong Kong" depends on the facts of each case and is a matter involving judgment on the specific circumstances of an individual case and the relevant previous court judgments.

     In processing applications for voter registration (VR), the ERO will decide whether the applicant ordinarily resides in Hong Kong by taking into account the specific situation of an individual case and referring to the previous court judgments. If the Registration and Electoral Office (REO) receives a concerned enquiry or complaint, it will carefully examine the details of the case and, where necessary, seek legal advice on the specific situation and/or refer the case to the law enforcement agencies for follow-up investigation. Besides, the REO publishes the provisional registers of electors, the omissions lists and the final registers of electors each year for public inspection to ensure that a highly transparent VR system is maintained. During the period when the provisional registers of electors and the omissions lists are published, the public may make objections or claims to the ERO against the entries on the registers and the lists. Such cases will then be referred to the Revising Officer and a determination will be made after representations from both parties are heard at an open hearing. Hence, a mechanism is already in place in the VR system to handle applications under various situations and to allow for public monitoring.

(2) The Government attaches great importance to maintaining the fairness, openness and integrity of the electoral system, and adopts various measures to ensure a high degree of transparency, the integrity and accuracy of the VR system. On the one hand, the Administration actively encourages the public to register as electors; on the other hand, we have repeatedly reminded applicants that they have to provide true and accurate information. Any person who makes a false statement in an application for VR or change of his residential address violates the electoral law. The Government has also reminded electors through various publicity channels to fulfill their civic responsibility to notify the REO to update their registered addresses after moving home.

     Besides, to maintain the credibility of the VR system and to enhance the accuracy of the information in the registers of electors, the REO has launched a series of improvement measures from 2012, including verification checks on electors' registered residential addresses through cross-matching of data with the Housing Department and the Home Affairs Department; checks on multiple electors or multiple surnames of electors registered with the same residential address; random sample checks on the existing electors; checks on addresses with incomplete information, commercial addresses or suspected non-residential addresses; as well as checks on addresses in buildings that have already been demolished or that have already been vacated pending demolition, etc. If the REO receives a complaint against a suspected false registered address of an elector, it will check against the relevant registration record and whenever necessary, request the elector concerned to confirm the relevant registered address and/or refer the case to the law enforcement agencies for follow-up investigation. In addition, the REO will continue to strengthen education and publicity to remind electors to fulfill their civic responsibility to ensure that the registration particulars are accurate. Electors should, upon moving home, notify the REO to update their residential addresses as soon as possible before the statutory deadlines so that they can vote in the constituency they are currently residing.

     The VR arrangements mentioned above aims to ensure that, on the one hand, the system is convenient to the public to register as electors and, on the other, a high degree of transparency, integrity and accuracy of the VR system, and striking a right balance between the two.

     Regarding the complaint in May 2014 concerning a suspected case of individual electors providing false residential addresses, the REO, upon receiving the complaint, wrote to the electors concerned immediately and requested them to confirm in writing the relevant information about their registered residential addresses. It was confirmed that some of the electors had passed away and some of them had moved while some of the electors had not replied. As a result, the REO updated the relevant registration particulars in accordance with the relevant legislation when compiling the 2014 final register and deleted the electors who could not confirm their registered residential addresses.

Ends/Wednesday, November 5, 2014