Democracy activists have expressed concern over a Hong Kong government proposal that would enable Hongkongers in China’s Greater Bay Area to vote, saying it could open the door to fraud.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam mentioned the idea in a TVB interview on Saturday following the controversial decision to postpone the legislative election until next September citing the coronavirus pandemic.
“The Greater Bay area is actually part of a ‘one-hour living circle’… shouldn’t the voting rights of [Hongkongers there] be respected?” she asked, adding that the authorities are looking into arrangements to accommodate elderly voters.
Speaking on an RTHK programme on Tuesday, Hong Kong’s sole delegate to the National People’s Congress Standing Committee – Tam Yiu-chung – also said the government should consider electronic voting mechanisms that could plug loopholes arising from paper ballots.
His comments echoed a similar remark on a TVB TV show on Sunday in which he said authorities could set up polling stations in Guangdong to accommodate permanent residents living across the border. The province consists of nine municipalities that make up the Greater Bay area – Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s ambitious plan for an integrated economic powerhouse.
Hong Kong permanent residents aged 18 or above are eligible to vote if they “ordinarily” live in the city, meaning those residing overseas must fly back if they wish to cast ballots. There are some than four and a half million registered voters in the city, according to official statistics.
Activist Joshua Wong – who is banned from the 2021 election alongside 11 other pro-democracy figures – launched an online petition opposing the plan, citing the risk of misuse.
“Beijing may block representatives of pro-democracy candidates or observers from entering mainland China which would leave the polling stations in mainland China unmonitorable. It will also enable the government to influence the results of future elections by manipulating the results of polling stations in mainland China,” the group wrote in a statement.
It added the “politically-driven” proposal would work in favour of pro-Beijing candidates and undermine fairness.
A spokesperson for the Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC) said last month in a statement that it would not be feasible to implement an electronic polling for the upcoming race due to “legislative procedures and technical” hurdles.
“[T]he application of electronic poll registers involves personal data of more than four million electors, stringent security measures should be in place to ensure the network and data security. Professional audits and certifications from an independent third party should also be obtained, otherwise it will be difficult to earn public confidence,” it read.
Asked by HKFP on Friday about the lack of e-voting systems and contingency plans, Lam admitted there were deficiencies in the electoral arrangements but said the scale of the pandemic was unpredictable: “Online voting, voting outside of Hong Kong, postal voting are all things that we should do in order to modernise Hong Kong’s electoral arrangements to meet unforeseen circumstances,” she said.
“It’s not a question of [a] failure to see. I think nobody can anticipate an epidemic or a pandemic of this scale. This is an occasion for us to realise that there are deficiencies in the current electoral arrangements which will not enable us to respond positively to this sort of situation.”
The chief executive pledged to collaborate with the EAC and the Legislative Council to carry out such work.