NEC chief apologizes, vows to do better on election day
"As chairperson, I take responsibility," Noh said in a press conference at the NEC headquarters in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi, "and apologize for the confusion and inconveniences caused by insufficient preparation."
After bowing her head, she added, "The NEC has turned over a new leaf and prepared for all voters to exercise their suffrage rights without any inconveniences and will do our best until the end of voting and counting the ballots."
During early voting for Covid-19 patients and people under quarantine on Saturday evening, voters had to wait in long lines at separate temporary polling booths, often in the cold, and were not allowed to place their ballots into official ballot boxes. Instead, election staffers collected the ballots in cardboard boxes, plastic containers and shopping bags to transfer them into ballot boxes.
The Covid-19 patients and quarantined people voted in areas separate from regular voters for safety reasons.
The NEC said they were following election law, which only allows one official ballot box at each polling station. But Covid-19 patients and people under quarantine questioned whether their ballots actually reached the ballot boxes. Some even suspected vote rigging.
In the aftermath, there were reported cases of election staffers misplacing and mishandling Covid-19 voters' ballots, leading to confusion as to whether these votes would be counted in an already tight race.
There has been further controversy over ballot boxes being stored in CCTV blind spot areas by local election commission offices, including in Bucheon in Gyeonggi and Jeju City.
In Bucheon, local city council members disclosed that some 50,000 ballots were found piled in plastic containers in the Bucheon Election Commission secretary general's office Tuesday, a room where the CCTV lens was covered with paper, according to a photo released by the main opposition People Power Party.
According to the Public Official Election Act, ballot boxes must be stored in a place where CCTV monitoring is possible. From their headquarters, NEC officials monitor the ballot boxes nationwide through CCTVs.
The NEC issued a statement Sunday apologizing for poor management but stressed that the polling procedures were "in accordance with the laws and regulations." It has dismissed allegations of vote rigging.
But the uproar has led to calls for the NEC chief to take responsibility for the poor management and to do things better on election day, Wednesday.
Thanking Covid-19 patients for coming out to vote despite difficult circumstances, Noh said Tuesday, "We apologize again to the voters who suffered inconveniences and confusion, along with on-site staffers."
She added that people with Covid-19 and those undergoing quarantine will be able to cast ballots in the same way as general voters on Wednesday, a decision reached by the NEC in a meeting Monday.
After receiving permission in advance from quarantine authorities, these voters will be able to cast ballots at their local polling stations from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, after all other voters. They will use the same polling station and be able to place their ballots directly in ballot boxes.
They will be allowed to begin heading to their polling station from 5:30 p.m. and are expected to return straight back home after voting.
If regular voters do not exit the polling station before 6 p.m., the Covid-19 voters will wait in a separate location.
Despite the NEC's reassurances that election day will be smoother, there are worries that a high number of Covid-19 voters could overwhelm the on-site election staffers.
There have been an average of 200,000 Covid-19 cases daily recently. Thus, there could be some 1.4 million Covid-19 voters expected to cast ballots at the 14,464 polling stations nationwide after 6 p.m. for 90 minutes. Even if each voter takes less than a minute to vote, this will not be enough time.
BY SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]