Thousands of Hongkongers have signed a petition against the government’s bid to shorten voting hours on election days as a public consultation for the proposal ends.
Last month, the government suggested that it would ask the Electoral Affairs Commission to shorten the voting time by up to an hour on legislative or district election days – either at the start or the end of the day – should the community reach a consensus.
The Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau (CMAB) reasoned that the shortening of polling hours could reduce fatigue and neighbourhood disturbances, as well as allow results to be announced earlier. Currently, polls are open for 15 hours from 7:30am to 10:30pm.
However, a study suggested this week that – if the government shortens voting time at the end of the day – pro-democracy voters would likely be affected the most.
The bureau launched a public consultation for the proposal on November 13. The deadline for accepting views came on Friday.
The online petition against the proposal was organised by pro-democracy legislator Charles Mok, who wrote on Facebook on Thursday evening that he had received over 7,000 signatures.
“During the 2016 legislative elections, some 220,000 people voted during the last hour of the polling period,” said Mok. “Shortening polling hours does not only inconvenience members of the public who need to go to work, it also takes away the public’s right to vote.”
Last week, CMAB Under Secretary Chan Shui-fu told the Legislative Council it was an exaggeration to call the shortening of polling hours a violation of rights, because not all Hongkongers have to work 15 hours a day.
The bureau’s public consultation also sought views on whether to regulate exit polls on election days so as to prevent the disclosure of survey results. During last September’s legislative elections, law professor Benny Tai implemented the influential “ThunderGo” survey plan to encourage tactical voting for pro-democracy candidates.
Furthermore, the bureau sought views on whether to create a blanket exemption so that Internet speech would not be construed as election advertisements incurring official expenses, which candidates must disclose.