Voters required to wear masks, gloves to cast ballots
Three ministers in charge of the election held a joint press conference in the morning at the Central Government Complex in Seoul, as the official campaign period kicks off amid the continuing coronavirus outbreak. Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae and Minister of Interior and Safety Chin Young jointly issued a statement and promised that the government will do its best to guarantee voting rights of patients and those under quarantine.
According to the ministers, the government is discussing measures with relevant authorities to ensure the safety of voters. For the upcoming elections, over 44 million are eligible to vote.
Preventive measures were created by the National Election Commission (NEC) to ensure safety of voting stations. According to the measures, voters are required to wear face masks. To enter a voting station, the NEC will conduct a temperature check. After passing the initial screening, voters will sanitize their hands and wear disposable plastic gloves to mark a ballot.
If a voter fails to pass the temperature test, he or she will be asked to use a special voting station separately set up. After one voter uses the station, the authorities will disinfect it.
Asking voters to follow instructions of the election authorities at the polling stations, the government said it is also important for the people to maintain distance when they are queuing up.
The ministers said extraordinary measures are being considered to allow coronavirus patients and those under isolation measures to cast their ballots. One such measure being considered is an early voting system at special stations to be created at the quarantine and treatment facilities.
As of now, 16 facilities are being operated nationwide for patients in less critical conditions, but voting stations will be opened at only some of them. An NEC official said it is realistically impossible to open voting stations at all facilities.
Vote by mail is another way to cast ballots. According to the NEC, ballots that arrive at the regional election commissions by 6 p.m. on April 15 are valid for counting. For the upcoming election, 10,529 applied to vote by mail, and the NEC said 464 of them are confirmed patients at medical facilities.
The deadline for registering for voting by mail, however, ended on March 28. Those whose infections were confirmed after the deadline are not eligible to use the system.
The government is still discussing a plan to allow people who are under the self-isolation protocol at home but do not exhibit symptoms to vote. As of now, violating the self-isolation order is punishable by criminal laws.
Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip, deputy head of the central disaster management headquarters, said Thursday that criminal processes are ongoing into 52 violations. Among them, state prosecutors have indicted six, while investigations are ongoing into the rest.
As of 6 p.m. on Wednesday, 23,768 people are under self-isolation measures, Kim said. The number has been growing by an average of 3,000 daily.
In cooperation with the NEC, the government will do its best to crack down on illegal campaign activities including production and distribution of fake news in cyberspace as many candidates are operating campaigns online, the minister’s statement said.
The overseas voting period, scheduled from Wednesday till Monday, is also affected by the outbreak. According to the government, the NEC had to stop election-related operations at 86 diplomatic missions in 51 countries. “It is extremely regretful that their suffrage was restricted in those countries,” the statement said. “We ask for the overseas voters’ understanding.”
According to the government, 171,959 Koreans living overseas were eligible to vote in the general elections, but only 86,040 will be allowed to cast ballots by Monday. Overseas voting was disrupted in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the global outbreaks, as well as Italy, France and Spain. Overseas voting won’t be allowed in some areas in the United States and Canada.
Meanwhile, 25 Koreans living in Germany and Canada filed a petition to the Constitutional Court claiming that their voting rights were violated because of the NEC’s decision. Through the Lawyers for a Democratic Society, they said the NEC’s decision was in violation of the Public Official Election Act’s Article 218. According to the law, the NEC is allowed to suspend overseas election affairs if it deems that it is unable to conduct overseas voting in the districts due to “natural disaster, war, uprising or other extenuating circumstances.”
“Germany and Canada are not countries where travel is restricted,” said Seo Chae-wan, a member of the civic group. “They, therefore, cannot accept the decision.”
BY SER MYO-JA [email@example.com]