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[Newsmaker] Lawmakers expected to extend voting hours for COVID-19 patients

Bill proposes COVID-19 patients vote separately from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

A sign is installed Monday in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, to promote people to vote for the upcoming presidential election slated for March 9. (Yonhap)
A sign is installed Monday in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, to promote people to vote for the upcoming presidential election slated for March 9. (Yonhap)
South Korea could extend voting hours on March 9 to let voters afflicted with COVID-19 to vote in the presidential election and by-elections held that day.

Legislators on Thursday agreed to revise the Public Official Election Act so that voters afflicted with COVID-19 under self-quarantine will be allowed to vote within a 90-minute window until 7:30 p.m. after voting booths close for regular voters at 6 p.m.

Lawmakers also agreed to add a clause mandating voters afflicted with COVID-19 to be provided with assistance in traveling to nearby voting booths. COVID-19 patients unable to travel in time during the extended hours will also have a chance to vote in separate booths during regular hours.

The decision was made during a sub-committee meeting of the Special Committee on Political Reform at the National Assembly.

Lawmakers had earlier proposed to extend the voting hours until 9 p.m. on the election day in response to concerns that those confirmed with the virus after the mail-in ballot registration period may be unable to report to voting booths on March 9.

The National Election Commission is receiving applications for mail-in ballots until this coming Sunday for COVID-19 patients housed in treatment centers in isolation, or self-quarantine.

Those who register within the period will be able to receive their ballots in the mail and cast their votes by sending their ballot back to the election authority.

The election authority plans to allow those housed in treatment centers on the election date to cast their ballots inside the centers in accordance with a guideline made for the parliamentary elections in 2020.

But no measures were additionally prepared for COVID-19 patients in self-quarantine, which has raised cynicism that the government is intentionally planning to exclude some hundreds of thousands of voters in the election.

Both parties were united on the need to extend voting hours, but their proposals have been met with resistance from the National Election Commission, which instead favors separate voting booths for COVID-19 patients instead of extending vote hours.

The election authority cited concerns of increased spending on running the election if hours are extended, which prompted legislators to shorten the extra voting period from the planned three hours to an hour and a half.

The National Election Commission said it would cost 22.6 billion won ($18.9 million) more if the voting hours are to be extended to 9 p.m.

The proposed revision is slated to be voted for final passage during a plenary session of the National Assembly on Monday after earning approval from the Legislation and Judiciary Committee.

By Ko Jun-tae (ko.juntae@heraldcorp.com)
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