Only the first character of an individual voter’s name and the full residential address will appear in future electoral rolls, the Hong Kong government has proposed.

The electoral register would also only be accessible to reporters from government-registered media, political parties, and election candidates with valid nominations.

Voters line up to cast their ballots. File Photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

“Such limited inspection will help prevent mala fide persons from misusing the electors’ particulars on the Registers, thus advancing the Privacy Protection Aim,” the Improving Electoral System Bill 2021 reads. The Chinese version of the document cites doxing as a an example of misuse.

The proposal is part of the 765-page bill announced by Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Tuesday. It lays out detailed amendments to local electoral laws as part of an overhaul of the city’s elections by Beijing.

Beijing handed down a new version of the Basic Law Annexes 1 and 2 in March, which revamped the way the city’s top elections will be conducted, and how its legislature, election committee and leadership are comprised. The move will reduce democratic representation in the city’s legislature and add several layers of vetting for potential candidates, including by the police. The plan has been deemed an “improvement” by the authorities but slammed by critics as it would make it near-impossible for democrats to run.

Photo: RTHK screenshot.

The electoral roll proposal would aim to strike a balance between transparency and personal privacy, the government proposal said. The measure would ensure that vote-rigging and irregularities in the voters’ register would be detected, while preventing misuse.

The final voter register currently shows individual voters’ full names and residential addresses, indexed by electoral district. Instances of false voter registrations were uncovered by the press in the past through inspection of the electoral roll.

“We propose to show only the first character/word of an elector’s name (whether in Chinese or English) and his registered residential address in full,” the bill said.

Masking the name of a voter partially means it might become impossible to distinguish between two voters with similar names.

Current restrictions

Due to an interim injunction, currently only reporters, political parties and election candidates are allowed to inspect the final voter register in person, subject to a range of restrictions:

  • Inspections are allowed only at the city’s two Registration and Electoral Offices by appointment.
  • Concurrent inspection by two individuals are allowed only in 30-minute time slots.
  • Each organisation may book no more than one session each day.
  • Mobile devices are not allowed during the inspection.
Electoral staff count votes in the 2012 Legislative Council Election. File Photo: GovHK.

The voter register was normally available for public inspection, but a court order has barred it from public inspection since April 2019, following a judicial review filed by the Junior Police Officers’ Association.

Selina Cheng

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.