Stacey Ng lives in Vancouver but can’t stop thinking about Hong Kong.
While the University of British Columbia is calling for exchange students to leave the city amid rising threats of violence, Ng has purchased a ticket to fly in the opposite direction.
The 25-year-old is heading back in a few days to cast her ballot in Hong Kong’s district elections on Nov. 24.
“I am scared. I’m terrified right now. I don’t even know if I’m going to be arrested for going out on a street,” she said nervously.
“But I feel … a sense of responsibility. The feeling that I got from seeing the news … I feel like that trumps all over my fear and a lot of my uncertainty. I feel like I still need to go.”
Hong Kongers are set to elect 452 councillors to the city’s 18 district councils on Sunday.
According to Ricky Ho, information officer for Hong Kong’s Registration and Electoral Office, registered voters have to cast their ballots in person at their polling station on election day.
Voters must also “ordinarily reside” in the city, but the criteria used to define this status vary based on the length of a person’s absence and the location of their children or parents.
“Each case has to be examined upon its own facts,” Ho added.
Ng, who has voted in a previous Hong Kong election, says she qualifies and will be going back.
“Living in Canada, I kind of take voting in an election for granted because in Canada we don’t really need to fight to vote,” she said.
“But in Hong Kong, based on what’s going on right now, I think it’s an even more crucial period for us to hold on to our rights.”
Albert Chan, a former Hong Kong district and legislative councillor currently living in Vancouver, says officials elected this Sunday will hold little decision-making power.
“The district council mainly addresses the local issues and also [acts] as a consultative body if the government wants to consult on an issue,” he said. “But even after consultation, the government still can decide whatever they like.”
But he says the upcoming election could be a problem for Chinese president Xi Jinping.
“If they are going to lose the election, that means that he is going to lose face. For a presidency, he will never accept such events to happen in Hong Kong,” Chan said.
Ng isn’t the only person taking a flight over the Pacific Ocean to vote.
“One vote is essentially one voice, and so it would be a very good report card for whose side [Hong Kongers are] taking,” says Jamie, a woman in her 20s who has purchased tickets for a short round-trip.
CBC has agreed to protect her identity. Jamie, which is not her real name, says her friends are on the front lines of protests in Hong Kong.
“Not being there is one of the main reasons for guilt,” she said.
“I see a lot of people my age, my friends even, and people younger than me, taking to the street to fight for what they believe in. And I’m stuck here, not being able to do anything except for, you know, just spreading awareness by sharing the news, photos.”
Jamie says casting her ballot in person is a show of support for protesters and for the Hong Kong she wishes to see.
Both Stacey Ng and Jamie have heard reports that the election could be pushed back or even cancelled, but that hasn’t changed their plans to fly back home.