[Viewpoint] How to make overseas voting work

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[Viewpoint] How to make overseas voting work

With the general election slated for April, parties are gearing up and candidates are getting ready to run. The election outcome will not only impact the presidential election and the overall development of Korean politics but also influence the peace and security of East Asia and the world. Therefore, politicians and voters need to appreciate the meaning of the election.

This election is especially meaningful as voters residing abroad will be casting votes for the first time, according to the revised public election law.

That Koreans overseas can vote means that Korean voters residing in other countries will be able to exercise their right to affect the course of the country in a new way. Therefore, it involves the inevitably complicated challenges of securing procedural fairness while facilitating convenience. The problem is that fairness often clashes with convenience. For example, overseas Koreans may find it convenient to send votes via postal mail, but it won’t be easy to guarantee such a method.

The outcome of an election is accepted when it is proven that the election involved a fair process. Therefore, it is only natural that the current public election law is based on fairness. Exit surveys should be prohibited at overseas voting sites. Exit surveys are generally permitted, but as overseas voting is held over a six-day period, there is a possibility that the survey could be distorted and exploited for purposes other than its original intention.

At the same time, the methods that improve convenience and accessibility should be actively introduced as long as they don’t undermine fairness. In fact, only 5.57 percent of the voters have signed up for overseas voting registration, which ended on Feb. 11. In Japan, about 10 percent of overseas voters are registered, and 25 percent of them actually cast votes. Compared to Japan, the low 5.57 percent registration rate may lead to controversy over efficiency.

The low registration rate reflects the lack of interest among the overseas Koreans and the inconvenient registration process.

In order to participate in overseas voting, you need to personally visit the local diplomatic mission and complete the registration process in advance, and then visit the office once again during the voting period to cast a vote.

Therefore, extension of the registration period should be considered, or the consul in charge of elections at local offices may tour the region to receive registration. These may be the most effective ways to enhance convenience while maintaining fairness.

Efforts should be made constantly to inform overseas Koreans. The meaning and process of overseas voting should be publicized widely, and by providing information on Korean politics, attention and interest should be evoked among overseas Koreans.

Of course, the Korean citizens residing abroad should realize that they have the right to vote. Overseas voting means that Koreans residing in other countries need to share a sense of responsibility in Korean politics.

As overseas voting has begun, the registration rate is rather disappointingly low, but it should not be grounds to claim that overseas voting is useless.

There are pending tasks as well. We have yet to find a consensus on voting for citizens residing in regions with no diplomatic missions, such as Taiwan, and for the dispatched soldiers, who are unable to leave the operation area.

At any rate, overseas voting corresponds to public interests. It may also provide an opportunity for changes in government policy on overseas Koreans as well as the public understanding of them. It will also reinforce the identity of the Korean community and boost the sense of unity.

Development of democracy in Korea is a task for all of us, and Korean citizens residing abroad are no exception. Elections are the flower of politics, and the flower is waiting to bloom.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

*The author is a professor of political science at Kyung Hee University.

by Song Seok-won
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