An unusual challengeWith less than a month before the March 9 presidential election, concerns are growing over the possibility that some voters who tested positive for Covid-19 will not be able to cast their ballots. According to the National Election Commission (NEC), people in isolation at home after they tested positive before preliminary voting on March 4 and 5 can vote by mail after they report their situation to the authorities from February 9 to 13. Voters who are fully recovered since also can vote on election day. If voters are still in quarantine on election day, they can cast ballots in special polling booths that will be installed in quarantine facilities.
There was less controversy in the last parliamentary elections on April 15, 2020 thanks to a relatively small number of daily cases at the time. But the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) has projected an alarming spike in daily cases to 130,000 to 170,000 by the end of February. If the numbers soar just a few days before election day, hundreds of thousands of voters may not be able to cast ballots. Given the neck-and-neck race between the two major presidential candidates — Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and his rival Yoon Suk-yeol from the opposition People Power Party (PPP) — the NEC must devise effective ways to allow all voters to exercise their right to vote.
As voting rights are guaranteed by the Constitution, the Moon Jae-in administration and politicians must protect the people’s right to vote. On Monday, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum promised to come up with a solution by Feb. 15 after taking several factors into account. The DP and the PPP also must join hands to ensure voting rights for the people.
The NEC can consider the idea of extending the period of preliminary voting. If the period can be extended by at least one day, more people can participate in the vote. That’s democracy. On the voters’ part, they need to use the preliminary voting system more than ever before. The number of polling booths also needs to be increased to help voters exercise their inalienable rights. If political circles hurry, such changes are possible.
The NEC’s measures currently allow voters to cast ballots in special polling booths arranged in quarantine facilities only for the two preliminary voting days. It might be better for the authorities to allow it on election day too, as there are no rules that ban such an extension.
Given the alarming spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, the government and political parties must bend the rules if necessary. Drive-through voting was once considered to boost voter turnouts, but was abandoned due to its harmful effect on the integrity of the direct and secret voting system. The clock is ticking. We hope the authorities present effective solutions to address this unusual challenge as soon as possible.