NEC head resigns over early voting chaos
Noh Jeong-hee, chairperson of the NEC, tendered her resignation at the Gwacheon government complex in Gyeonggi, saying she felt "responsible for the management of the advance voting of Covid-19 patients in the presidential election."
Noh said, "I deeply apologize for causing concern to the public and ask for its cooperation so local elections can be held flawlessly."
Her resignation came 44 days after the chaotic early voting for the presidential election and less than two months ahead of June 1 local elections.
Covid-19 patients and people in quarantine during early voting on March 5 were not allowed cast ballots in official ballot boxes, making them wonder if their votes were being tallied at all.
The infected voters were asked to cast ballots in an area separate from regular voters for health reasons. Election staffers collected the ballots in cardboard boxes, plastic containers and shopping bags to transfer them to ballot boxes.
The main opposition People Power Party (PPP) criticized Noh for not showing up for work on March 5, which fell on a Saturday, and called on her to resign.
The NEC apologized for poor management of early voting but stressed that the polling was conducted "in accordance with the laws and regulations." It dismissed accusations of electoral fraud.
Election authorities said they were following regulations allowing for only one ballot box at each polling site.
Civic groups filed complaints with the Supreme Prosecutors' Office, accusing Noh, the NEC secretary general and others election officials of abuse of power, negligence of duty and violation of the Public Official Election Act.
The NEC revised its procedure for people with Covid-19 or undergoing quarantine for the March 9 election day voting, allowing them to cast votes directly into ballot boxes. Voting for Covid-19 patients took place after the regular voters.
In the meeting Monday, NEC commissioners concluded that there was "overall inadequacy in the predictions, preparation and response" process for early voting.
They also called for reforms including slimming down the NEC, reducing 10 percent of its employees and dispatching 20 percent more election staffers into the field during important election periods.
The commission also said that the son of Kim Se-hwan, the NEC secretary general who resigned last month, received some preferential treatment after he was hired by the Incheon Metropolitan City Election Commission.
The NEC said that the younger Kim used the Incheon Metropolitan City's official residence for election officials from Jan 8 to 28 when he was not eligible for such housing. It also pointed out that Kim's business trip to Philadelphia earlier this year was improperly handled. Kim was not originally on a list of people for the business trip and was included without the proper recommendation process.
The NEC however said that there was "no incidence of former Secretary General Kim exercising undue influence."
Allegations related to the younger Kim's recruitment and promotion were dismissed by the election commission. Kim previously worked for the Ganghwa County Office and transferred to the Incheon Metropolitan City Election Commission in January 2020. At that time, his father was deputy secretary general at the NEC. The younger Kim was promoted to a 7th grade civil servant within six months of changing jobs. The NEC said that personal information such as family relationships was not revealed during the hiring stage, and that all four applicants who applied for promotions with Kim were also promoted. The senior Kim became NEC secretary general there months later.
Kim resigned as secretary general on March 16 over controversy over the poor management of early voting.
A standing commissioner of the NEC will temporary stand in as chairperson of the NEC.
Last Friday, President Moon Jae-in nominated lawyer Kim Pil-gon, a veteran judge, as a standing commissioner of the NEC, an appointment which came after consultations with President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol's transition team, according to the Blue House. He awaits a confirmation hearing.
Appointments to the NEC had been a source of friction between the outgoing and incoming administrations.
BY SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]