[Letters] Minimizing overseas election illegalities

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[Letters] Minimizing overseas election illegalities

Korea has a painful history of election corruptions that took a great toll. Even today, whenever an election is held, corruption and illegalities, some minor and some serious, continue. Lawsuits are filed to contest the outcome of elections. Because of the historical background and political reality, election law in Korea defines excessively detailed and strict restrictions.

The method of voting is precisely defined by the law. Voters must go to the polling station on the day of the election and cast a vote in person. Those who are unable to vote on the election day must report to the polling stations set up for the absentee voters in advance.

The law strictly limits that only the voters who are unable to move or the soldiers serving in the barracks or naval vessels may send ballots in by mail. Living too far away from the polling station or transportation inconvenience are not grounds for ballot by mail. The election rule is so strict because voting by mail poses relatively greater probability for illegalities such as false voter registration or proxy voting.

In the National Assembly election and the presidential election next year, Korean citizens living abroad are allowed to cast a vote for the first time in history. Various opinions have been proposed to accommodate convenient voting for overseas Koreans.

Votes by mail may be allowed extensively and methods that have not yet been tried in Korea, such as electronic or online voting, are also discussed. It is only fair and just to provide the most convenient way for the overseas Koreans to cast their votes. However, we must consider impartiality first.

In past national assembly elections, the smallest margin of votes between the elected and the runner-up was three votes in the 16th national assembly election. The smallest margin for the 17th election was nine votes, and 129 votes for the 18th election. In the 15th presidential election, the margin was 390,000 votes and 570,000 votes for the 16th presidential election.

The National Election Commission estimates that there are about 2.3 million eligible overseas Korean voters. If 30 percent of them actually cast votes, that would yield 700,000 votes, which is enough to make an considerable impact not only on the National Assembly election but also the presidential election.

According to media reports, overseas Korean communities have become increasingly divided over political interests ever since overseas voting was introduced. The division is likely to aggravate as the election approaches and the possibility for illegality is sure to grow. It is truly regrettable that there is no clear device to guarantee fairness in overseas voting.

Even when the election is held under the surveillance of the hundred of thousands of National Election Commission, police and election-related personnel, various illegalities are committed and proxy votes are cast by mail. Since illegal actions cannot be monitored, votes cast in foreign countries may pose greater risks. It means that candidates may not accept the election outcome using the ground that illegalities may happen in the overseas election.

Therefore, it is not advisable to emphasize voting convenience of the overseas Korean residents. If guaranteed fairness in the overseas voting is primarily limited, we need to contemplate ways to minimize possible illegalities and to manage the election to be as flawless as possible then we may discuss the most convenient method of voting within that yields fairness.

*Letters and commentaries for publication should be addressed “Letters to the Editor.” E-mailed letters should be sent to eopinion@joongang.co.kr.

Lee Ki-sun, a former secretary general for the National Election Commission and a visiting professor at Kyunghee University.
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