Rethink likely on voter penalty

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 February, 2012, 12:00am


The government may reconsider penalising voters who fail to update their address on the electoral roll following strong public opposition to the idea, a top official disclosed yesterday.

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen (pictured) told lawmakers that most respondents to an ongoing government consultation on the proposal were against the idea. 'Hardly anyone supported it ... It is very common for Hong Kong people, young people in particular, to move. If they forget to update their address because they are too busy, it may not be appropriate [to penalise them]. Some lawmakers suggested that it might not be proportionate,' Tam said.

'I believe if no strong argument supporting the idea is received before the consultation ends, we will [reconsider the proposal].'

At a special meeting of the Legislative Council's panel on constitutional affairs, Tam said officials would propose ways forward next month after the review ended on March 2.

The penalty on those who have moved but voted in their original constituency is among the ideas being considered in a bid to plug loopholes in the election system and avoid a repeat of the abuses that marred November's district council polls.

The government has also suggested that new voters be required to provide proof of address when enrolling - an idea Tam said many lawmakers opposed. He also said many of them were worried about the proposal because it might hamper their efforts to get residents to register as voters.

New People's Party chairwoman and lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said: 'If residential proof is required, it will be very difficult ... to help people register as new voters.'

Meanwhile, Tam said the Registration and Electoral Office had looked into alleged vote-rigging cases affecting about 9,300 voters.

Some 4,700 letters were sent to voters asking for proof of their registration details, he said. The cases might be passed on to law enforcement agencies if there was no response to the requests.

Another 2,300 letters of inquiry would be sent out in the coming week and about 2,200 voters were cleared of any wrongdoing after an investigation, Tam added.

In addition, the office mailed about 50,000 letters asking for residential proof and tens of thousands more would be sent out soon as part of a random check of voters' registered addresses. The random checks will apply to 100,000 to 180,000 voters, or 3 to 5 per cent of the total, but some legislators called for that proportion to be increased. Tam promised to consider the suggestion.

He added that the office would begin checking voters' details against housing records next week.

Tam also pledged to follow up on lawmakers' demands to clearly define the term ordinary residence so that those who were sometimes out of town would know whether they were eligible to register and vote.