Hong Kong will arrange two polling stations near the city’s boundary with mainland China in the upcoming “patriots-only” District Council election, allowing registered electors across the border to vote.

A large banner is displayed to promote the 2023 District Council election on October 16, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
A large banner is displayed to promote the 2023 District Council election on October 16, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Eligible voters living in mainland China can cast their vote at stations set up at two schools in Sheung Shui, the New Territories neighbourhood that is one train stop from the city’s border control points during the December 10 elections, the government said in a statement on Tuesday.

In 2021, Hong Kong set up polling booths at Liantang, Luohu and Futian border control points to facilitate Hong Kong voters based in mainland China to vote in the “patriots-only” Legislative Council election. Then-chief executive Carrie Lam said it was a “one-off arrangement” because of Covid-19 travel restrictions.

The upcoming arrangements mark the first time during District Council elections that polling stations will be set up for voters in the mainland.

Pre-registration required

Voters must pre-register online on a dedicated website run by the Registration and Electoral Office. The system will open from November 20 to December 6. Electors must provide their Chinese and English names, their Hong Kong identity card number, email address and phone number.

The quota will be capped at 38,000, but the government said it may raise the limit if the number of registrations was high.

Hong Kong Taoist Association Tang Hin Memorial Secondary School. File photo: GovHK.
Hong Kong Taoist Association Tang Hin Memorial Secondary School. File photo: GovHK.

The arrangement was made after the government “received many views and voices from the community” that many Hong Kong residents working and living across the border wanted the authorities to set up polling booths at boundary control points, according to the statement. But the checkpoints were “very busy” and therefore not suitable for such setup, it added.

“[I]n view of the fact that the epidemic has now passed and the control points have resumed normal operations, and that all the control points are currently very busy in operation… there is not adequate space to set up polling stations,” the statement read.

Lawmaker Bill Tang told reporters on Tuesday that he welcomed the arrangements, but urged authorities to do sufficient publicity work as voters might not be aware that they must pre-register.

Next month’s District Council race would be the first since the Hong Kong government changed the composition and method of formation for the district-level government advisory body.

Plans to overhaul the District Council elections were unveiled in May 2023 to ensure only “patriots” were elected, following a pro-democracy landslide at the last polls in 2019.

The number of seats chosen democratically by the public were slashed from 452 to 88 – reducing the power of public votes to a fifth. The rest are to be chosen by the city’s leader and government-appointed committees.

Constituency boundaries were redrawn, the opposition were shut out, voting hours were slashed by an hour, and each local council is to be chaired by a government official, similar to colonial-era arrangements. All candidates undergo national security vetting to ensure patriotism.

Hong Kong China flags National Day 2023 patriotism
The Chinese national flags and the Hong Kong SAR flags in Hong Kong. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Voters will only be able to cast a vote in the geographic elections at the two polling stations. Those voting in the District Committees election, open only to members of the committees, must vote at the 18 main polling stations to “ensure the smooth conduct of the polling and counting procedures,” the authorities said.

Vetting in progress

Opposition parties have been effectively barred from joining December’s race, after their members did not manage to collect sufficient nominations from members of three government-appointed committees. As part of the overhaul, candidates must receive a total of at least nine nominations from the committees, which are stacked with pro-establishment figures.

The District Council Eligibility Review Committee, chaired by the city’s number two official Eric Chan, is set to complete the screening of 399 election hopefuls by next week to see if they met patriotism requirements.

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Ho Long Sze Kelly is a Hong Kong-based journalist covering politics, criminal justice, human rights, social welfare and education. As a Senior Reporter at Hong Kong Free Press, she has covered the aftermath of the 2019 extradition bill protests and the Covid-19 pandemic extensively, as well as documented the transformation of her home city under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Kelly has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration. Prior to joining HKFP in 2020, she was on the frontlines covering the 2019 citywide unrest for South China Morning Post’s Young Post. She also covered sports and youth-related issues.