Proposed scheme would allow electors to cast ballots in 2004 Legco poll with new 'smart' ID cards

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 November, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 November, 2001, 12:00am

Officials plan to introduce an automatic voter-registration system for the next Legislative Council election in 2004.

The simplified procedures could be introduced in the 2002-03 legislative session.

Under preliminary plans, the Government would automatically register eligible voters when new 'smart' identity cards are issued from 2003.

Voters would then not have to register before elections and would be notified of their constituencies.

The Registration and Electoral Office would obtain personal data from other sources, such as the Immigration Department and Rating and Valuation Department, in order to update its records.

But it would not ask for information from the Inland Revenue Department, one of the largest official databases, because of privacy concerns. The Government would also open more channels for voters to update their addresses.

A top official said automatic registration was the general trend, with most countries adopting the system.

The Government had been considering the new system for years and the official said it was time to move forward.

He said the main advantage of automatic registration would be to simplify administration and save money as there would be no need for voter-registration drives.

The Government spent $40 million last year to draw an extra 400,000 registrations.

The source said the new system would enfranchise people who forgot to register.

He was not concerned about the political impact of a lower percentage of voter turnout in elections because at least more people would be on the register. The turnout in absolute numbers, rather than a percentage, was more important.

There are about three million registered voters and 4.5 million people who are eligible to vote.

But the Government is still worried about human rights concerns.

'Some people may think this is like compulsory registration. There are people who would not want to register,' the source said. A system would be set up for people to be de-registered.

Most political parties, including the Democrats and the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, have supported automatic registration for years.

Professor Lau Siu-kai, director of the Chinese University's Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, said the Government had taken the right step.

'Voting is a natural-born human right,' he said. But he believed the new system would not encourage many more people to vote.

'Those who want to cast their ballot are already registered, while those who are not on the list are not politically active,' he said.