Voters weather pandemic to exercise their civil rights
“I was really worried I might mess up because it was my first time voting for a president,” said Noh. Korea’s legal voting age is 18.
“It was like I had been protected by society all throughout my school years, and now I can finally call myself a member of society. This is far more important than being old enough to buy alcohol or cigarettes.”
Noh was among millions of Koreans who headed out to cast their ballots in the 20th presidential election Wednesday, held amid the country’s worst phase of the Covid-19 pandemic. Health authorities announced that the nation counted over 340,000 infections from the day before, the highest daily tally ever recorded.
Yet the grim news was no scare to voters like Noh who showed up at one of numerous polling stations across the country. For many, the pandemic served as yet another reason to pick a leader who could guide the nation through the darkest of times.
“It’s a tremendous gift that I can vote for the president with my very own hands,” said Seo Gang-geun, 83. “I’ve never skipped voting for a presidential election throughout my entire life.”
Ha Seong-yong, 88, said he took his time to thoroughly analyze each candidate based on their campaign promises, mainly looking at the pledges he thought were realistically achievable.
“I want the country to be prosperous, honest, and rich and powerful,” said Ha.
Cheon Gi-bang, 57, who dropped by a Seoul polling station in the morning, said he hoped the next president would create opportunities for hard-working citizens to thrive.
Twenty-four-year-old Moon Chae-yeong took a selfie outside a polling station after casting her vote, and uploaded the photo to her Instagram, hoping her followers would take a cue.
“I hope my post encourages at least one more person to vote,” said Moon. “The previous presidential election’s turnout was 77 percent. I hope more eligible voters come out to cast their ballots today.”
While no major chaos was reported at polling stations Wednesday, small skirmishes did occasionally arise between voters and election officials.
In Jeonju, North Jeolla, a voter called the cops after an official refused to give her a ballot, saying she looked “chubbier than the photo” on her ID. Police later said that both sides made peace after the official apologized.
In Namyangju, Gyeonggi, a woman in her 60s was arrested at a polling station after she damaged a ballot box, claiming she wanted to see if the ballots were safely managed. Police investigating the case said the woman vented her frustration about the botched handling of last week’s early voting.
In Yecheon, North Gyeongsang, a voter called the police with claims that he was wrongly checked on the poll book to have already voted by the time he arrived at a station to vote, even though he had never cast his ballot. Police said they were looking into the case.
Some 15,000 polling stations have been set up across the nation, nearly half at schools. Education authorities Wednesday said they would allow teachers to decide how to run classes Thursday, so as to calm any jitters about possible Covid-19 infections among students. The Ministry of Education said teachers were allowed to end in-person classes early for the day or hold all their classes virtually.
BY CHOI SEO-IN [firstname.lastname@example.org]