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[From the Scene] Virus fails to dampen voter enthusiasm

Video report: Korea at the polls amid pandemic


A voter accepts an exit poll request outside a polling station in Seoul. (Yonhap)
A voter accepts an exit poll request outside a polling station in Seoul. (Yonhap)

The lingering impact of the coronavirus pandemic didn’t stop hundreds of thousands of South Koreans from heading to the polls on Wednesday to pick 300 lawmakers.

From Seoul to distant islands off the southern coast, mask-clad voters began to form long lines in front of some 14,330 polling stations as soon as voting kicked off at 6 a.m.

Despite the election taking place amid the COVID-19 outbreak, most voters interviewed by The Korea Herald said the virus shouldn’t stop a democracy’s biggest event.

“I wasn’t feeling unsafe. People were quietly keeping their distance while lining up. But my fingers got clumsy with plastic gloves when I was confirming my identity with a fingerprint and marking the ballot paper,” a voter in her 60s surnamed Han said, emerging from a polling station at Seoul Arts High School in Pyeongchang-dong, Jongno.

At around 7 a.m., the line of waiting voters had wrapped around the schoolyard.

Next to the main entrance to the school, a sign read: “All visitors are prohibited from entering the school due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.”

Voters had their temperatures checked at the entrance. Poll workers advised voters not to cross the white lines marked on the floor so as to keep a distance of at least 1 meter from others while waiting to vote.

“As the country is in a difficult situation, I didn’t stick to the party I have been supporting. I cast a vote for a candidate and a party that will work hard for the people,” she said

Voters form a long line to cast their ballots at a polling station in Daegu on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
Voters form a long line to cast their ballots at a polling station in Daegu on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

Large bottles of hand sanitizer and disposable plastic gloves were available at the entrance and exit of the polling site to ensure safe voting.

Depending on which site a voter visited, polling workers asked individuals to verify their identity by signing a paper or a digital signature pad, or by using fingerprint recognition.

Considering that the country’s intensive social distancing campaign is scheduled to end Sunday, voters were still cautious about mingling with others but cheerful about exercising their rights to have their votes counted.

Seo Jung-yong, a 44-year-old composer, faced long lines at a polling center in Ihwa-dong, Jongno.

“This is an unprecedented situation worldwide. I’m very proud and thankful that voters are participating in an orderly manner. I think it indicates that voters are aware of the importance of the elections,” he said.

Kim Han-na, who voted in Dogok-dong in Gangnam, Seoul, said she was worried about voting at first.

“But come to think of it, we have much of it under control, so I just came out, assured that it’d be safe,” she said.

Voters cast ballots at a polling station in Ulsan. (Yonhap)
Voters cast ballots at a polling station in Ulsan. (Yonhap)

In Jecheon, North Chungcheong Province, two voters whose temperature was higher than 38 Celsius were sent to a special makeshift polling booth, which was set up near the entrance to a polling place, to avoid contact with other people. Polling workers advised them to visit a community health center in the area for consultations and to follow sanitary guidelines recommended by the government.

Yoo Bok-yeop (second from left), a senior teacher at Yangji Village School, and their family photograph themselves after casting their ballots in Nonsan, South Chungcheong Province, Wednesday. (Yonhap)
Yoo Bok-yeop (second from left), a senior teacher at Yangji Village School, and their family photograph themselves after casting their ballots in Nonsan, South Chungcheong Province, Wednesday. (Yonhap)

Individuals in self-isolation started to appear at polling stations about a half an hour before uninfected people finished voting at 6 p.m.

Some 22.8 percent of people in quarantine, 13,642 voters, have registered to cast their ballot in person in the last two weeks.

The government placed stringent safety measures on voting from quarantine, allowing them to come outside for 100 minutes only if the one-way travel time from the quarantine site to the designated polling place is less than 40 minutes on foot or in their own vehicles. They are banned from taking public transport to reach polling places.

At a polling place in Suseong in the virus-hit southeastern city of Daegu, six people who had been placed in home isolation were guided by a polling worker in a hazmat suit to vote in two booths built outside of a community center.

The polling worker put the voters’ ballots into envelopes and put used plastic gloves into a plastic bag to keep them separate from other waste.

Residents of small islands without their own polling stations traveled over water to cast their ballots at the closest ports.

Residents of the country’s southernmost island of Marado took ferries to the larger Jeju Island to vote early in the morning, while some islanders chose to travel the previous day just in case.

Residents of island-like villages across the nation, formed as a result of dam construction, also had to take ferries provided by their local governments. They included Dongchon-ri in Hwacheon, Gangwon Province, and Odae-ri in Okcheon-gun, North Chungcheong Province.


By Park Han-na (hnpark@heraldcorp.com), Kim Bo-gyung (lisakim425@heraldcorp.com), Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com) and Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)
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