Court must consider realityRepresentative democracy entrusts governance to representatives elected through elections. Elections are therefore the crucial pillar in modern democracy. The Constitution leaves specific rules and terms on legislative elections to various laws. The Public Office Election Law differentiates between district and proportional representatives, requiring the former to be elected in electoral districts and the latter based on total population. Electoral district lines are set by the districting commission ahead of general elections. Redistricting is the process of drawing electoral district boundaries across the nation. Representation according to population is the central part of such redistricting to ensure the equality of representation in democratic elections.
The work of designing precise geographical boundaries of each constituency is more than abiding by the principle and rule of elections. Redistricting repeatedly raises controversy because it is close to the heart of voters and candidates.
The Constitutional Court has reviewed this problem many times. The highest court ruled that the fundamental tenet in setting electoral districts should be population representation. In 1995, it advised that the gap between the most- and least-populous districts be kept to a four-to-one ratio. In 2001, it narrowed the ratio to three-to-one.
Equality, which is the central guideline in elections, should be applied to creating electoral districts. The discrepancy in the voting population must be kept to the minimum. But it has become almost impossible to district constituencies according to the number of voters. In Korea, the majority of the population lives in urban districts. The population gap between large cities and other areas has become too wide.
The Public Office Election Law requires redistricting to consider conditions like administrative status, geographical features and transportation in addition to the number of voters within the districts of cities and provinces. Many agree that the population disparity should not ultimately exceed a two-to-one ratio among electoral districts. But the ideal guideline could cause confusion and conflict. It is why the Constitutional Court ruling in 1995 said redistricting should broadly consider the difference in population in urban and rural districts, and geographical, administrative, historical and traditional conditions.
Administrative status and geographical size are equally important factors in redistricting. If voting deviation is narrowed too artificially, large districts could be combined into one constituency. A legislator may not be able to fully represent the voices of voters living in distant administrative districts. It makes sense to refer to a lawmaker as a representative of not only the voters but the land of a constituency. Increasing the number of electoral districts based only on population could hinder balanced development between rural and urban areas.
Decades have passed since the last ruling by the Constitutional Court on redistricting. Many changes in administrative districts, population growth and mobility, as well as the social environment in transportation and infrastructure have taken place. But population concentration in large urban communities has not changed. The population gap in other areas is no different.
To limit the population deviation to a two-to-one ratio is ideal, but it cannot be said to be reasonable when considering the factors of reality. The Constitutional Court must consider such inevitabilities of reality. No principle should be free from reality.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The author is a law professor at Dongguk University.
By Kim Sang-kyum