Hong Kong officials must work with politicians to plug loopholes in voter registration system

Government’s latest public consultation must be comprehensive and decisive to ensure the honesty of city’s electoral roll

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 December, 2015, 10:37am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 December, 2015, 10:37am

Yet another public consultation has been launched to tighten our overly loose voter registration system. This came after the last review in 2012 failed to stamp out bogus registrations for the district council polls last month. With the Legislative Council election just 10 months away, it is imperative for the government to plug the loopholes this time.

It would be unfair to blame the government alone for the problem. Some reasonable proposals put forward by officials in the last consultation were regrettably rejected by political parties. Take the proposed requirement of proof of residential address as an example. Currently, one can sign up to vote without any proof of address, leaving room for vote rigging. But politicians are adamant that the requirement is troublesome and will dampen the incentive for those eligible to register as voters.

With over 677,000 new registrations and changes handled this year, the electoral authority can only rely on a system that depends on the honesty of individuals. But the regime is prone to abuse. The media have unearthed a trove of registrations with suspicious addresses over the past few months. Some 1,450 cases were challenged ahead of the November’s ballot, with nearly 300 voters eventually struck off the electoral roll.

The irregularities make deterrence all the more important. A new offence for giving false information for registration was introduced after the last review. But whether the penalties of

HK$5,000 and six months’ imprisonment are sufficient is open to debate. At present, electoral corruption and other malpractices are subject to HK$500,000 fines and seven years’ imprisonment. As fake registrations also undermine the integrity of elections, the proposal to raise the penalties to HK$10,000 and two years’ imprisonment seems reasonable.

At stake is our fair and credible electoral system. Politicians and officials should work together to plug the loopholes once and for all. The last thing the public wants is yet another piecemeal review.