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LCQ4: Participation by Hong Kong electors on the Mainland in voting in Hong Kong's elections
     Following is a question by the Hon Benson Luk and a reply by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Erick Tsang Kwok-wai, in the Legislative Council today (January 11):
     It is learnt that there are nearly 400 000 Hong Kong residents on the Mainland who are concentrated mainly in places such as the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (the Greater Bay Area), Beijing and Shanghai, but it had all along been difficult for them to participate in voting in Hong Kong's elections. It was until the 2021 Legislative Council General Election that the Government had, for the first time, made an arrangement to enable Hong Kong electors who were on the Mainland to go to the polling stations set up at Heung Yuen Wai, Lo Wu and Lok Ma Chau Spur Line boundary control points and cast their votes there. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether it has collected data on the aforesaid arrangement (including the number of people who voted, polling station preferences, peak voting periods, and reasons for some electors not being able to go and cast their votes), as well as conducted analyses and studies; if so, of the details and the outcome; if not, the reasons for that;
(2) whether it has plans to regularise the aforesaid voting arrangement; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(3) whether it has studied if setting up polling stations at more control points and in Mainland cities will be subject to the restrictions under the Basic Law or relevant ordinances as well as the relevant technical considerations, and whether it has discussed with the Mainland authorities the setting up of polling stations in the Mainland cities of the Greater Bay Area and other Mainland cities to facilitate Hong Kong electors to cast their votes; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
     The 2021 Legislative Council General Election (LCGE) was held on December 19, 2021. It is the second major, and by far the largest, election after the full implementation of the principle of "patriots administering Hong Kong" under the improved electoral system. The HKSAR Government attached great importance to every electoral arrangement of the 2021 LCGE, with a view to ensuring that the election was conducted in a fair, just, honest, efficient and user-friendly manner. The successful conduct of the election by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government is of great significance.
     In previous elections, some registered electors who were in the Mainland would return to Hong Kong on the polling day to cast their vote. Since the outbreak of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 pandemic, cross-boundary personnel were unable to return to Hong Kong in time due to quarantine and isolation measures. In light of such situation, and to facilitate geographical constituencies electors and functional constituencies electors who were in the Mainland and wished to return to Hong Kong to vote in the 2021 LCGE, the HKSAR Government enlisted necessary assistance and support from the relevant Mainland authorities, and was grateful that the relevant Mainland authorities rendered full co-operation to set up polling stations temporarily at three designated Hong Kong/Shenzhen boundary control points on the Hong Kong side. The HKSAR Government made a special one-off arrangement for electors to return from the Mainland to Hong Kong to vote (special arrangement). It set up three polling stations at the boundary control points (BCPs) at Heung Yuen Wai, Lo Wu and Lok Ma Chau Spur Line. An elector, who had pre-registered and fulfilled certain criteria, could be exempted from quarantine to vote at the designated BCP polling station within Hong Kong and return immediately to the Mainland afterwards.
     In response to the Hon Benson Luk's question, our reply is as follows.
(1) To ensure the special arrangement of the 2021 LCGE could be carried out in an orderly manner and to control the pandemic risks effectively, all electors returning to Hong Kong from the Mainland to vote must pre-register in advance from December 1 to 8, 2021. There was a quota for the special arrangement. The total pre-registration quota for the three BCP polling stations was 111 000 (Heung Yuen Wai (Liantang): 33 000, Lo Wu (Luohu): 42 000, and Lok Ma Chau Spur Line (Futian): 36 000 respectively). The quota was allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. The number of successfully registered quota was 21 948 (Heung Yuen Wai (Liantang): 6 115, Lo Wu (Luohu): 7 012, and Lok Ma Chau Spur Line (Futian): 8 821 respectively).
     An elector was required to choose a BCP polling station (i.e. any one from Heung Yuen Wai, Lo Wu or Lok Ma Chau Spur Line) where he/she would like to vote during the pre-registration. Once confirmed, the elector would be allocated to vote at that chosen BCP Polling Station on the polling day. The polling hours of BCP polling stations were the same as the ordinary polling stations, i.e. 8:30am to 10:30pm. An elector had to choose a specified time slot (each hour was counted as one slot) on the polling day for voting upon pre-registration, so as to facilitate the corresponding arrangement and crowd management by the relevant departments. The Registration and Electoral Office (REO) had arranged sufficient manpower at each BCP polling station and made full use of the space at the BCPs given operations were suspended at the time, so as to ensure the smooth arrangement and operation of BCP polling stations.
     Under the concerned arrangement, the pre-registered and actual number of voters at each BCP polling station is set out at Annex 1. The actual number of voters per hour at the three BCP polling stations is at Annex 2. 
     Due to the principle of vote secrecy, the REO would not examine and dig into the information and reasons of electors who pre-registered but did not vote at the BCP polling stations.
(2) The said special arrangement was an one-off measure, which was a result of consultation and agreement between the HKSAR Government and the relevant Mainland authorities.
     As pointed out by the Electoral Affairs Commission in its Report on the 2021 LCGE, whether or not the special arrangement is applicable to future public elections cannot be generalised and shall depend on the actual circumstances. 
     The HKSAR Government will consider the applicability of such arrangements to future elections having regard to the actual circumstances, such as the necessity of setting up polling station(s) at BCPs, space available for poll at individual BCPs, crowd control, security considerations, cooperation with the Mainland, etc.
(3) The prevailing electoral legislation is only applicable to elections held in Hong Kong, and the relevant legislation does not cover election-related work and procedures (e.g. setting up polling stations, regulating election-related conduct) conducted outside Hong Kong. At the time, the three BCP polling stations were all located on the Hong Kong side and therefore did not involve the question of extra-territorial voting.
     As regards the suggestion of setting up polling stations in the Mainland, it involves complex legal and actual operational issues. The HKSAR Government needs to consider various relevant factors holistically, including whether there is a need and how to make pre-registration arrangements for voting outside Hong Kong, how to effectively and safely transport ballot papers and ballot boxes to and from polling stations outside Hong Kong, arrangements during the poll and count, how to apply the relevant electoral legislation and regulations of Hong Kong when arranging poll and count outside Hong Kong, the risks involved in the process and how to handle unexpected situations at polling stations outside Hong Kong, how to effectively maintain order at polling stations outside Hong Kong and how to enforce the relevant electoral legislation, how to devise an appropriate monitoring mechanism to ensure that the credibility of the election will not be undermined as a result, etc. Before making a decision, the HKSAR Government has to deliberate in great detail from the policy and legal operation perspectives, and there should be thorough discussion in society. As the aforementioned issues would require ample time to deliberate, the HKSAR Government has no plan to set up polling stations in the Mainland for the time being.
Ends/Wednesday, January 11, 2023
Issued at HKT 16:45
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