Officials test the early voting process and check voting machines at a polling station in Busan ahead of the March 9 presidential election, in this Jan. 25, 2022, file photo. (Yonhap)
South Korea's election watchdog will propose a plan to allow in-person voting for virus patients after 6 p.m. in the upcoming presidential election amid concerns that the ongoing COVID-19 crisis could affect hundreds of thousands of voters casting their ballots.
Under current election rules, it is virtually impossible for those who are diagnosed with COVID-19 after the early voting period that falls on March 4-5 and people who go into self-isolation just before the March 9 presidential election to cast their votes.
To solve the problem, the National Election Commission (NEC) is considering allowing virus-infected people to cast their votes after 6 p.m. on the presidential election day of March 9 and the last day of early voting that falls on March 5.
In order to cast their votes, virus patients and quarantined people need to get temporary leave permits from health authorities. The NEC's plan will be discussed at a parliamentary political reform committee meeting later in the day.
The NEC estimates it would cost 8.5 billion won ($7.1 million) to allow virus patients and people in self-quarantine to cast their votes.
The ruling Democratic Party (DP) and the main opposition People Power Party (PPP) have said they will discuss revising the election law in a way that allows virus-infected people to vote separately from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on March 9.
The DP will also propose a revision that makes virus patients eligible for mail-in voting, while the PPP will call for the establishment of temporary polling stations and other facilities for virus patients to cast their votes.
Since both parties agree on people with COVID-19 participating in voting, the revision is widely expected to be approved in the Assembly plenary session on Monday.
South Korea's new COVID-19 infections have been soaring due to the highly infectious omicron variant, which has become the country's dominant strain, with daily cases exceeding 35,000 in the past four days.
The government expected that the daily tally may reach 130,000-170,000 late this month.
With growing concerns that the ongoing virus situation may prevent many people from casting their votes, President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday called for measures to guarantee voting rights of virus patients and people in self-isolation. (Yonhap)