Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has announced the introduction of electronic poll registers at the 2021 Legislative Council elections. The update will make use of electronic card readers to verify voters’ ID cards and registration at the moment of casting a ballot.

Electoral laws will have to be amended, as they currently limit the voting process to using only a printed register, a government source said.

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Electronic voter register to be used. File Photo: Galileo Cheng/HKFP.

Voting stations will start using electronic card readers, in which a voter’s Hong Kong ID card will be inserted. After verifying their voter registration as valid through an electronic system, a paper ballot will be issued to the voter.

Currently, voting officers manually verify ID card details of a voter using a printed voting register. After confirming the voter’s name, ID card number and their voting district, the officer will then issue the voter with a paper ballot, and cross out their name in the register book.

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However, even with an electronic register, the ballot itself will remain in paper form, the government source said. And the votes will continue to be manually processed at the central counting station.

The new process will prevent human error in the process of ballot distribution and has been implemented in many other countries, the government source said. Ballot distribution errors in previous elections have nevertheless been rare.

The Registration and Electoral Office put out an open tender for electronic card readers this month.

No update on mainland voting

Separately, the 2020 policy address has not provided more details of plans to allow Hongkongers living in the mainland to vote in Hong Kong elections, with just one sentence saying that the government will “explore” the controversial proposal.

The government is studying various aspects and logistics for expanding voting stations to the mainland, a government source said. An HKFP-Pori poll found that the majority of Hongkongers oppose the plan.

The source said the government would prefer to have voting centres on the mainland manned by Hong Kong civil servants, as opposed to mail-in options.

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Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.