National Assembly pulls strings to help infected, quarantining individuals vote
A subcommittee of the Special Committee on Political Reform passed a revision bill of the election law on Thursday, designed to extend voting hours to allow confirmed patients and those in self-quarantine to cast ballots on election day.
The bill, proposed by the ruling and opposition parties, said both confirmed patients and those in self-quarantine will be allowed to cast ballots after the statutory voting hours. According to the plan, confirmed patients and self-quarantined voters will be allowed to visit voting stations and cast their ballots from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on election day, March 9.
Lawmakers initially wanted to extend the voting hours from 6 to 9 p.m., but the plan was rejected by the National Election Commission, citing unnecessarily high costs.
On Wednesday, the National Election Commission briefed the committee, saying that the public health authorities’ decision to temporarily lift the quarantine restrictions is key for the plan.
According to the commission, extending the voting hours for the quarantined voters until 7:30 p.m. requires about 8.5 billion won ($7.1 million), for hiring additional staff at voting stations and purchasing the necessary protective gear.
The government has estimated that Korea will see about 130,000 to 170,000 new daily cases by the end of this month.
“We are doing our best to guarantee [citizens'] right to vote,” said Kim Se-hwan, secretary general of the National Election Commission, adding that the election watchdog is currently consulting with the health authorities.
The ruling and opposition parties agree that a special measure will be necessary because more than 1 million voters are expected to be in quarantine and otherwise unable to cast their ballots if the current surge of infections continue.
“If you look at the 1997 and 2002 presidential elections, the winners were decided by 390,000 and 570,000 votes, respectively,” Rep. Kim Sung-won of the People Power Party (PPP) said Wednesday. “If over 1 million otherwise eligible voters cannot cast their votes due to quarantine measures, there is a high possibility that the public sentiment will be distorted.”
The ruling and opposition parties are expected to pass the bill during Monday’s voting session.
BY SER MYO-JA [firstname.lastname@example.org]