Election ended, but NEC continues to face criticism
Criticism on the poor management of ballots from early voting by Korea's election commission continued throughout presidential election day.
Ballot counting was delayed for about nine hours in Incheon's Bupyeong District after a group of more than 100 people, including conservative YouTubers, blocked a ballot box from being carried inside the counting station at around 7:30 p.m. They raised accusations of electoral fraud, claiming they witnessed strangers carrying a ballot box which had already been counted back into the station.
The National Election Commission (NEC) explained that election officials were carrying the ballot box on foot due to traffic congestion around the entrance, but the confrontation continued for nine hours.
The ballot counting was eventually held at 4:45 a.m. on Thursday, with around 20 of the conservative YouTubers watching over the workers' shoulders after they demanded to be allowed to stay.
It was found that the box mostly contained votes for Yoon Suk-yeol of the conservative People Power Party (PPP), ultimately ending the turmoil wreaked by the conservative supporters.
The election commission of Incheon said in a press release issued Thursday that it has filed a complaint with the Incheon Metropolitan Police Agency against many, unspecified persons on charges of violating the election law and obstructing the police.
The NEC has already come under heavy criticism for mishandling ballots, after there were reported cases of election workers placing the ballots of Covid-19 and quarantined voters in cardboard boxes, plastic containers and shopping bags, leading to doubt as to whether these votes ever actually reached the ballot boxes, while some even raised claims of vote rigging.
Cases of poor ballot handling continued to be reported even on election day.
At a polling station in Bucheon, Gyeonggi, two ballots were mistakenly issued to a single voter.
In Osan, Gyeonggi, a voter was turned away without being able to cast a ballot as the election officials mistakenly thought they had already voted. A similar incident, in which an elector who had not yet voted was marked as having already voted, was reported in Yecheon County in North Gyeongsang, and the police and the election commission launched an investigation.
Critics say the NEC provided excuses for such clashes.
Professor Kim Hyung-jun of political science and diplomacy at Myongji University explained that the NEC’s political stance backfired on them, citing the two vacant seats among the nine NEC member spots.
“Six of the remaining seven members of the NEC were appointed by the president [Moon Jae-in] or appointed by Chief Justice Kim Myeong-su,” Prof. Kim said. “The distrust against the NEC soared as the commission gave up its status as a politically-neutral agency.”
NEC chairperson Noh Jeong-hee issued a public apology Tuesday after criticism withered over the handling of early voting for Covid-19 and quarantined voters, but criticism among the academia and politics experts has yet to subside.
"It's not a matter that can be passed over without being held responsible," Professor Chang Young-soo, from Korea University School of Law, said. "They have come to a situation where the NEC is being asked if it is qualified to continue to exist as a constitutional agency."
"Since the electoral fraud of the presidential election in March 1960, the NEC has been upgraded to a constitutional agency with the will to secure fairness in elections," Chang said. "I don't think there has been a mess like this election since Korea’s democratization."
An official from the NEC, however, said they are not currently considering discussing disciplinary action for Noh, as the presidential election just recently ended.
BY YOON JI-WON, SEO JI-EUN [firstname.lastname@example.org]