Vote-rigging during legislative and district council elections may be deterred by removing a six-month time limit on prosecuting suspected offenders, the government has proposed.
It also suggests extending public checks on the list of registered voters from two weeks to four weeks, to allow people more time to respond if they have been left out of the list or find any inaccuracy or outdated information.
Lawmakers will discuss the ideas, submitted yesterday by the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau, on Monday.
The proposed law revisions came after scores of people were convicted of election-related crimes such as registering false addresses to vote in a constituency they did not belong to.
Democratic Party chief executive Lam Cheuk-ting said he was disappointed the government did not intend to consider raising the penalty for declaring a false address. Nor would it consider a pan-democratic suggestion to unify law enforcement powers on election fraud under the Independent Commission Against Corruption, which now shared the responsibility with the police, noted Lam, a former graft-buster.
"The government is simply sending a message to the public that it lacks the intention to toughen up against such illegal behaviour," he said.
The government conducts a two-month voter registration exercise to sign up new voters and allow for data updates, such as reporting on people who have died. A provisional voter register is then put out for the public to check that everything is in order.
The two laws governing legislative and district council elections are the Electoral Affairs Commission Regulation and the Elections Ordinance.
The regulation, which is enforced by the police, bans people from making false statements when they register as voters. Offenders face a HK$5,000 fine and six months in jail - provided they are charged within six months of the end of the ballot.
The ordinance, enforced by the ICAC, makes it illegal for a voter to cast a ballot in a constituency that is not their own. It has a stiffer penalty of a HK$500,000 fine and seven years in jail.
Pan-democrats have been calling for making the ICAC the sole agency for fighting vote-rigging. The bureau, which oversees the election authorities, has insisted the "division of labour has been working well" and is worried about overloading the ICAC.
Lam's party colleague, lawmaker Wu Chi-wai, supports unifying the roles as he believes the police will make fighting serious crime their priority. Splitting the responsibilities could also create uncertainties and redundancies during investigations, he said.
The government plans to table the amendments by July.
Voting fraud marred elections in Central and Western District and Yau Tsim Mong in 2011. In the King's Park constituency of Yau Tsim Mong, 45 people were convicted for registering false addresses and other crimes. Its councillor, Edward Leung Wai-kuen, was also unseated by a High Court ruling.