Early voter turnout hits record high as of Friday noon amid health concerns
<Breaknews Australia=Daniel Kang>
South Korea’s early voter turnout for the parliamentary elections flagged a record high as of Friday at noon on the back of voters seeking to avoid large crowds on April 15 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Out of 43.9 million eligible voters, 2.5 million, or 4.9 percent, had voted, according to the National Election Committee.
By comparison, this is two times the turnout by the same time during the 2016 parliamentary elections and the highest ever since early voting for national elections was introduced in 2014.
Pundits attributed the high turnout to voters opting to cast their ballots in advance to avert large crowds on election day alongside 18-year-old voters voting for the first time. The legal voting age in Korea was lowered to 18 from 19 in December of 2019.
The two-day early voting to elect members of the 21st National Assembly will run until Saturday at 3,508 polling stations nationwide from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day.
Voters whose body temperature is 37.5 degrees Celsius or higher or those who display respiratory symptoms are directed to a separate polling booth, the NEC said.
Before stepping into the booth, voters are required to sanitize their hand and put on disposable plastic gloves provided at polling centers.
Although it is not mandatory to wear a mask, the NEC repeatedly advised voters to wear one among other guidance such as to refrain from talking to each other and to stand at least 1 meter apart from one another.
Grappling to strike a balance between voting rights of people in self-quarantine and curbing the spread of the contagion, health authorities are to map out a plan that ensures the rights and public health of those in quarantine.
Voters in self-quarantine, who have been exposed to the virus, will vote on election day, with detailed guidelines to be announced on Sunday.
The directive is widely expected to separate self-quarantined voters from others by “directing them to vote at a different time, making sure their routes do not overlap and incorporating various virus prevention measures” on election day, said Vice Health and Welfare Minister Kim Kang-lip.
Meanwhile, eight polling stations -- one in Seoul, one in Gyeonggi Province, one in Daegu and five in North Gyeongsang Province -- are open for virus patients in isolation who wish to cast their votes early, the NEC said.
Eligible voters with valid photo IDs can vote at any polling station without having to register separately. Early votes will be counted after voting ends on April 15.