Assembly fails to improve overseas voting system
By Lee Tae-hoon
Several lawmakers of the ruling and main opposition party have repeatedly pledged to improve the registration system for overseas voters, but this has turned out to be an empty promise.
The deadline to alter the election process for 2.23 million Koreans living abroad is this Sunday, as the registering of overseas voters for the Dec. 19 presidential election begins that day, according to National Election Commission (NEC) officials.
"It would be difficult to introduce a system for overseas voters via mail or the Internet for the December election because such a system takes time to develop," said Kim Yong-hee, a senior official at the NEC.
A legal expert at the NEC concurred with Kim, saying it would be impossible to introduce changes to the election system once registration starts next week.
“We cannot make two electoral polls ― one for voters who visited their nearest embassy or consulate and another abruptly made right before the election through the enactment of new legislation,” he said.
Nevertheless, lawmakers have yet to deliberate on any of the bills submitted to the National Assembly to boost the turnout of overseas voters, making it impossible for the NEC to introduce a new measure for the upcoming presidential poll.
Observers point out that it has once again been proven that the leadership of both the ruling and opposition parties have little interest in implementing measures to ease the burdensome process of overseas voters visiting embassies twice to register and then vote.
“Both lawmakers of the ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition Democratic United Party have proposed bills that would waive the registration obligation for permanent residents and those who registered for the April 11 parliamentary elections,” a senior member of the Saenuri Party said.
“However, none of the political leaders have shown willingness to discuss deliberations of the pending bills. The chance of the National Assembly to have a plenary meeting to pass any of the bills related to absentee voting is zero.”
He said that the list of pending bills includes those aimed at allowing overseas citizens to undertake voter registration and cast ballots online without having to travel to designated diplomatic missions.
Only 56,465, or 2.5 percent of the eligible overseas voters exercised suffrage for the April elections largely because they had to visit the diplomatic mission twice, often travelling for hours ― once for registration and the other to vote.
The expense for the April polls that took place at 158 diplomatic missions in 107 countries, amounted to 29.3 billion won ($25.7 million) or about 520,000 won per overseas voter.
Korea enacted a law in 2009 that grants citizens in foreign countries the right to vote in general and presidential elections.
To be eligible to vote, expatriates have to register with the embassy or consulate in their jurisdiction, while those who are overseas studying or working on election day can either visit a consular office or register by mail for absentee voting.
Registration for overseas voters for the upcoming presidential poll will run for three months at 162 diplomatic missions in 107 nations, but the registration rate will likely stay low due to the inconvenient method.