Voting at 65 global missions suspended due to pandemicKorea’s election watchdog said Monday that it will suspend the ballot process at 65 diplomatic missions in 40 countries — including the United States — because of the coronavirus pandemic, which will affect nearly half of eligible overseas voters ahead of the April 15 general elections.
Some 80,500 overseas voters, or nearly 47 percent of more than 171,000 Koreans in 119 countries that are eligible to vote in the April 15 elections, are expected to be impacted.
The National Election Commission (NEC) announced Monday that it will halt overseas polling activities at 41 additional diplomatic missions in 25 countries by April 6, days ahead of the absentee voting period set to kick off Wednesday.
Last Thursday, the NEC initially reached a decision to suspend operations related to elections at 23 overseas missions in 17 countries, including Italy.
On March 17, the commission suspended election operations at the Korean consulate general in Wuhan in China’s Hubei Province, the original epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.
Overseas voting will kick off this week from April 1 to 6 for countries not affected.
However, overseas voters in the affected areas will effectively not be able to cast their absentee ballots to elect the 21st National Assembly.
Registered overseas voters typically cast ballots at a polling station run by the nearest diplomatic mission, or an alternative facility such as Korea centers.
Ballots cast in polling stations around the world are then brought back to Korea in diplomatic pouches to ensure confidentiality. But the cancellation and suspension of many flights amid the global pandemic poses another problem.
In the United States, operations at 12 polling stations have been suspended in cities including New York, Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Atlanta, Honolulu and Houston, according to the NEC Monday. Operations at the polling station in Hagatna, Guam, were already suspended last Thursday.
In Canada, polling activities will be suspended at the Korean Embassy in Ontario and consulates in Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto.
Other countries where the ballot process has been newly suspended include Belgium, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, New Zealand, Malaysia, India, the Philippines, United Arab Emirates, Israel and Jordan.
The NEC reached the decision taking into consideration the safety of voters amid the pandemic, as well as countries’ quarantine measures, lockdowns and travel bans.
The Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, after receiving reports from its overseas diplomatic missions, requested the NEC last week to suspend polling activities in countries most affected by the coronavirus.
However, some overseas Koreans are voicing disgruntlement over the suspension saying it infringes upon their right to vote.
Korean residents in Germany, one of the affected countries, have taken to social media and launched a campaign to guarantee their voting rights.
Some overseas voters posted photos of themselves holding up signs which read, “No vote, no justice.”
Soyeon Schröder-Kim, a Korean representative of the Economic Development Agency of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, and wife of former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, posted on Facebook Saturday, “We request to be able to vote,” saying the Korean voters will all wear masks, keep a two-meter distance and practice good order while polling.
In the case physically casting a ballot was difficult, she suggested “Briefwahl,” German for postal voting.
The NEC said that registered overseas voters who have returned to Korea before April 1 can report to their relevant district election commission to cast their ballot in Korea on April 15.
The NEC has also urged overseas voters to abide by precautions including wearing masks, using sanitizer and maintaining at least a one-meter distance while in line.
BY SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]