‘Too late to change overseas voting process‘
By Lee Tae-hoon
Politicians have once again promised to revamp the overseas absentee voting system, saying they will take measures necessary to increase the turnout among Korean expatriates in the presidential election in December.
However, officials of the National Election Commission (NEC) advised voters not to be fooled by them. It says their “empty rhetoric” is nothing more than lip service and an attempt to dodge responsibility for the low turnout in the April parliamentary elections.
“Don’t trust lawmakers pledging to revise laws to allow postal voting for overseas citizens in the upcoming presidential poll,” a senior NEC official in charge of parliamentary affairs said asking for anonymity. “It would require at least one year for the government to prepare for the introduction of a new voting system.”
Of 2.23 million eligible voters living abroad, only 2.5 percent, or 56,456, exercised suffrage during the six-day advance voting that took place at 158 diplomatic missions in 107 countries until April 2.
Due to the low turnout rate, the NEC, which set aside 29.3 billion won (25.8 million) for the operation of overseas voting, had to spend more than 50,000 won per overseas voter.
The vast majority of overseas citizens gave up casting ballots due to the inconvenience of having to travel to the nearest Korean embassy or consulate twice, often by driving for several hours _ one for registration and the other for voting.
Nevertheless, all overseas citizens will once again need to travel twice more to the diplomatic mission to participate in the December presidential election, including those who have already registered for the National Assembly elections.
“It will be very inconvenient and time consuming for overseas citizens to visit the diplomatic mission twice more, to register and cast a ballot in the presidential poll,” another NEC official said.
“But any major change, including registration exemption, and allowing non diplomatic missions as polling stations, will only be possible after a law revision.”
Currently, overseas voters must submit an application to be on the electoral register every time there is a new election, despite the fact that those in Korea do not need to do so as they are automatically added to the rolls when they reach legal voting age.
Both the ruling Saenuri Party and main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) recently announced that they would push a revision of the Public Official Election Act to help increase the low turnout of overseas absentee voters.
The Saenuri Party said that it would seek ways to allow voters to register in electoral rolls via mail and make registration valid for up to a year, up from five months.
The DUP said that it would address problems found in the April parliamentary elections and will get more overseas residents participate in the presidential poll without elaborating what measures it would take.
However, insiders say that there is not enough time for lawmakers to deliberate and change the overseas voting system for the presidential poll scheduled for Dec. 19.
They point out that a new National Assembly, which will be formed based on the results of today’s elections, will be established on May 30, less than two months prior to the registration for the presidential election starting on July 22.
“Normally, it takes a couple of months for a new Assembly to select new heads of standing committees and to fix schedules for major parliamentary meetings,” a senior official of the Saenuri Party said.
“No law revision can be done in a hurry before July 22 that is the absolute deadline for any change for the presidential election, unless the two rival parties give utmost priority to the matter.”
He said both the Saenuri and DUP gave up the early introduction of postal voting for overseas Koreans as they realized that it would be very difficult for the election watchdog to prevent electoral fraud.
He said a group of lawmakers in charge of handling Election Law revisions decided not to allow postal voting after witnessing election rigging last year during their visit to the United States to supervise the election to select the president of the Federation of Korean Associations there.
Kim Jae-kwon, who won the election, had to step down in June last year after being found that he won the race by buying postal votes.