What They Said is a regular series on the quotes Korea is talking about.
After a surprising turn of events on the morning of March 3, in which Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s Party decided to pull out of the presidential race at the last minute and declare his support for Yoon Suk-yeol of the People Power Party, South Korea kicked off two days of early voting, on March 4 and 5. The voter turnout of 36.93% was the highest ever recorded for an early voting period. But unfortunately, this positive news was overshadowed by some issues reported at the polling stations for those voters who had tested positive for Covid-19. The National Election Commission had previously announced that Covid patients (including those who were in quarantine) would be given a chance to vote between 5pm and 6pm on the second day of early voting, March 5. However, when voting began for Covid patients, there were reports of marked ballots being distributed to voters, patients fainting in line due to the long wait, and ballots being collected in garbage bags, as a provisional measure to avoid departing from Article 151 of the Public Official Election Act, which stipulates that only one ballot box at a time should be used in each voting district.
Both the ruling and opposition parties commented on the matter.
I heard that those with confirmed Covid experienced a lot of inconvenience in the voting process today. Ensuring the right to vote is our top priority. The National Election Commission and the authorities must take thorough measures to prevent the inconvenience and confusion of Covid-positive patients from reoccurring on election day on March 9.
— Lee Jae-myung, Democratic Party of Korea presidential candidate, March 5, 2022.
The People Power Party’s message was more critical and angry.
How can early voting have been such a mess for those who have Covid and are in quarantine?
I feel unbearable anger at the incompetence of the National Election Commission, which has managed such a poor and sloppy vote.
We asked for thorough election preparations, but the early voting was so cursory and unprepared that the National Election Commission can no longer be trusted.
Our party will not tolerate any form of illegal, fraudulent, or mismanaged balloting that misrepresents the people’s opinions.
We will ensure that the votes of those who cast their ballots today are not stolen. And, even before the main vote takes place on March 9, we will promptly investigate the poor management revealed today so that there are no setbacks on election day.
The People Power Party will further solidify our role as a watchdog so that the sincere votes of each and every citizen are never misrepresented.
— Kim Gi-hyeon, floor leader of the People Power Party, March 5, 2022.
On March 6, the National Election Commission issued a statement:
We are very sorry and apologetic for any inconvenience caused on March 5 to the early voters confirmed with Covid-19.
In order to honor the legislative purpose of extending the voting time on election day and to guarantee the voting rights of the rapidly increasing number of confirmed Covid patients through the revision of the Public Official Election Act, the National Election Commission prepared special measures to allow early voting for confirmed Covid patients.
The provisional voting method applied this time was in accordance with the laws and regulations, and there is absolutely no possibility of voter fraud as it guarantees the attendance of party-recommended observers in all processes.
In the 21st general election, and in the April 7 by-election in 2021, the same method was used for self-quarantining voters on election day.
However, in this election, there was insufficient management of early voting for confirmed Covid voters due to the highest early voting turnout in history and restrictions on voting station managers and polling facilities.
The Commission is taking this issue seriously, and we will accurately identify and closely examine the problems that have arisen, and promptly take action so that the people can vote with confidence on election day.
— National Election Commission, March 6, 2022.
President Moon Jae-in also expressed concern.
President Moon Jae-in has stated as follows regarding the early voting controversy:
“The controversy surrounding the early voting is regrettable. I believe it is necessary for the National Election Commission to explain the circumstances in sufficient detail for the public to understand. On election day, thoroughly prepared measures should be put in place to prevent such a controversy from reoccurring. I hope that the Commission will do everything possible to ensure that the voting rights of confirmed Covid patients and those who are in quarantine are fully guaranteed and that there is no controversy over the fairness of the election.”
— Park Kyung-mi, spokesperson for the president of South Korea, March 6, 2022.
On March 7, Lee Nak-yon, former prime minister and current head of the Lee Jae-myung camp, also weighed in on the issue.
Early voting for the presidential election recorded the highest turnout ever, nearly 37%. I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the people of South Korea. However, there was a lot of confusion in the early voting for those who were positive for Covid and in quarantine. The National Election Commission’s post hoc explanation was also insincere. On the early voting days, the chairman of the National Election Commission did not even go to her office. This was a shameful situation for South Korea as the 16th largest democracy in the world, the number one democracy in Asia, and a model country in its management of the Covid pandemic.
I hope that the National Election Commission will come up with a clear plan for improvement and gain the understanding and forgiveness of the people. Even if improvements are planned, the measures must be thoroughly checked in advance, to ensure that they will be properly implemented. That way, there will be no issues at the voting sites. I hope that the honor and trust of the National Election Commission is restored, and that the people’s dissatisfaction and anxiety over this presidential election is eradicated. I believe the National Election Commission also knows how serious this incident was and why.
— Lee Nak-yon, former prime minister and incumbent head of Lee Jae-myung’s election committee, March 7, 2022.
Considering that there were claims of fraudulent voting in the April 7 by-election in 2021, this trouble with the early voting may end up causing further problems, such as a dispute over the result of the presidential election, regardless of who wins. Aside from a short apology, the National Election Commission has not commented on the early voting controversy, despite pressure from the People Power Party for the head of the Commission to resign.