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The Evolution of Digital Elections

Posted June. 04, 2010 14:41,   


A writer who boasted some 160,000 followers on Twitter posted a message Wednesday that he voted and uploaded on the site a photo of himself taken in front of a polling station. An actor offered 100 theater tickets to followers who voted, while a renowned go player promised 100 followers who voted the opportunity to take a picture with him and get his autograph. Many of them proved that they voted by taking pictures of themselves with the ballot stamp on the back of their hands. The mobile phone text messages that contributed to Roh Moo-hyun’s election as president in 2002 have evolved into smartphones and social media.

Rhyu Si-min, the People’s Participatory Party candidate for Gyeonggi Province governor, lost to incumbent Kim Moon-soo of the ruling Grand National Party. Rhyu, however, got to within five percentage points of Kim in an opinion poll conducted one week before the elections, rallying from a 15-point deficit. His strong showing seems to be the result of text messages and Twitter. On election day, Rhyu encouraged his Twitter followers to vote by saying he was behind Kim by two points, according to the interim results of an exit poll. The day before the elections, young Twitter users talked about going on family outings with their parents and grandparents. While they passed up the opportunity to vote, they also sought to prevent their parents and grandparents from voting for the ruling Grand National Party.

Korea has an estimated 600,000 Twitter users. Most are of the younger generation accustomed to digital devices, so they have the power to influence three million to six million people. The advent of digital election campaigns is cause for disgrace for polling agencies. Since most people have their own cell phones, the conventional polling method of dialing home phone numbers cannot accurately reflect public sentiment. Yonsei University professor Kim Joo-hwan said polling agencies need to develop new survey methods by using mobile media and voice recognition technologies.

The day will come when people cast digital ballots without having to go to polling stations. The use of PCs and mobile phones will allow anyone to vote anywhere, resulting in the saving of enormous voting expenses. At the National Assembly, which has adopted a digital voting system, lawmakers simply press a “yes” or “no” button, and the results instantly appear on an electric light board. Disputed matters such as the Sejong City and four-river restoration projects could be settled simply through a digital referendum. The more digital elections evolve, the greater the younger generation`s influence will be.

Editorial Writer Yuk Jeong-soo (sooya@donga.com)