Don’t shun early votingEarly voting for the March 9 presidential election opens for two days from Friday. Eligible voters can cast their ballots in polling stations anywhere in the country regardless of their residential location from 6 in the morning to 6 in the evening when they present identity cards with photos. Those tested positive for Covid-19 can also exercise their vote on Saturday. Early voting adopted from 2014 in place of absentee voting has been popular thanks to its convenience, recording a voting rate of 26.06 percent in the last presidential election in 2017.
But distrust raised by some people can confuse voters. The National Election Commission (NEC) filed charges against Hwang Kyo-ahn, former head of the United Future Party, and Min Kyung-wook, a former lawmaker of Liberty Korea Party, for campaigning against early voting. The Seoul Municipal government’s election commission also filed charges against Gong Byung-ho, a conservative commentator. They are accused of violating the Public Office Election Act by urging voters to exercise their rights on the official election day because the NEC was allegedly readying manipulation through the preliminary voting procedure.
Suspicion of foul play was raised in early voting for the April 15, 2020 parliamentary elections. But the grounds are weak. The NEC refuted the claims ahead of the March 9 presidential election. The three opponents had accused the NEC of trying to manipulate computerized results by setting up an ad hoc office. But the NEC maintained that it rents out extra offices during elections due to a lack of space in the headquarters building. They also claim that supervisors in polling stations for early voting can fabricate ballots with stamp them. But the NEC retorts that pre-stamping could be identified.
Questions about manipulation are repeatedly raised against the NEC because it has been dubious in exercising neutrality. The election administration body banned opposition party members from using slogans that could act unfavorably against ruling party candidates in the April 7 by-elections last year. President Moon Jae-in even attempted to extend the term of a permanent commissioner loyal to the ruling camp after his tenure expired, fueling suspicion about the NEC’s neutrality.
Announcing the results of polls on presidential candidates is banned during the remaining period. Poll results so far had varied by agencies and methods. The results ultimately depend on voters. There is no reason not to cast an early vote. Both parties are encouraging early voting as it could be safer than the voting day amid the Omicron variant danger. The NEC must be meticulous in administrating the early vote to avoid further questions on fairness. It must clear all suspicions about its integrity.