19 October 2019
Hong Kong elections can benefit from technology to ensure a fair and transparent process. Photo: Reuters
Hong Kong elections can benefit from technology to ensure a fair and transparent process. Photo: Reuters

Why smart ID card should be used to uphold fair elections

The law requires Hong Kong people to bring their identity card at all times under section 17C of the Immigration Ordinance, so it is quite reasonable for voters to bring along their original ID card to cast their vote.

However, the leader of Hong Kong’s biggest pro-Beijing political party is strongly opposed to the idea. 

In June, the government decided to amend the law to require citizens to show their original ID card to vote after some cases last year in which people were found to have used a photocopy of their ID to register.

Under the new requirement, which will come into effect on Dec. 1, anyone who loses their identity card will need to present extra documents other than a photocopy in order to cast their ballot. The amendment was published in the government Gazette in June and tabled at the legislature by way of negative vetting procedure.

If people fail to present their original ID, they must present other documents with photo to prove their identity, such as passport, valid seaman’s identity book issued by the Immigration Department, or a document evidencing a report to a police officer of the loss or destruction of the person’s identity document, together with the original of a valid passport or similar travel document or a Home Return Permit, and a copy of an identity document in paper form.

But the new requirement forbids people to use a photocopy of their ID to vote. The practice is quite popular among the elderly who do not want to lose their ID, so they keep it at home.

Still, there were voters who used a copy of their ID to register in previous elections.

The government has done the right thing. It said the current practice may cause misunderstandings over which documents are acceptable as proof of identity. It was the Electoral Affairs Commission which suggested amending the law.

Undersecretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Andy Chan told a Legislative Council session on Monday that lawmakers had not voiced opposition during a previous consultation over the requirement.

However, some Beijing loyalists are angry at the government proposal, saying the new measure is too strict for most people.

Starry Lee, chairwoman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, expressed her anger over the policy.

“No offence, but you do not know the actual situation. Many elderly people – not just those living in elderly homes – do not bring their identity cards with them on the streets,” she said.

It’s rare for a pro-Beijing political party to stand on the opposite side of government policy, so it’s worth considering what precisely Lee was doing when she lashed out at the government.

Lee accused Chan of being out of touch with elderly voters and criticised the government for using the requirement to support the new ID arrangement.

The whole matter is so simple and makes sense that nothing should be argued about it.

However, Lee is worried that elderly voters may not be able to cast their vote without their original ID. She thinks that the requirement is an unnecessary inconvenience to elderly voters.

So here we are with Lee mouthing a double standard. Remember how she defended the rule of law when criticizing the Occupy Central leaders? The question is whether bringing an ID card to vote in an election that does not happen every day is that troublesome.

Many Hong Kong people know that the pro-Beijing camp has massive resources to give away to the local community during an election.

Voters are provided with stickers with the candidate’s number on their palm to remind them, and transport would be arranged for old electors to bring them to polling stations.

Hong Kong people know the implications of such practice. Of course, there may be no direct relationship between such arrangements — or the use of a photocopied ID — and the voting results.

The fact is that the government has clearly laid out the rationale behind the requirement. The pro-Beijing camp should now drop its opposition and accept the new rules.

The more the Beijing loyalists attack the new policy, the more open they will be to accusations that they have benefited from the old rules.

In fact, the government should go further by making use of technology to protect the fairness and transparency of elections.

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EJ Insight writer