More than 11 million voters went to the voting stations from Friday to Saturday for the April 15 general elections, recording the highest voter turnout of 26.7 percent. The turnout in this year’s early voting is higher than 26.1 percent in the 2017 presidential election, on which all eyes were after the country experienced the first impeachment of a president in history. Pundits expect that the total turnout can exceed 60 percent in this year’s general elections. Previous general elections hovered in the mid- to upper-50-percent range.
The high voter turnout implies both heightened public attention to the elections and wide concern over possible COVID-19 infections. It shows that voters chose early voting, where they may have less contact with people, over not casting their votes. The nation’s strong level of social distancing has made it not easy to take on the campaign trail or interact with voters. This aroused some pessimism about voter turnout resulting from political cynicism and indifference. However, threats of the COVID-19 pandemic have turned out to stimulate voters’ yearning rather than reducing their political attention.
South Korean citizens exemplified a great level of civic awareness in terms of political participation and fight against COVID-19 during the early voting period. They patiently waited in line for voting with an interval of one meter one another for safety even though it took long. Probably, most of them would have joined early voting to protect their own safety by having less contact with people at polling stations. Nevertheless, it demonstrated deep public consideration not only for them but also for a wider range of people in communities. The early voting ended without any disruption thanks to a mature sense of community among most of the voters although some did not keep the one-meter distance from each other at some poll stations.
Voting participation lays the foundation for democracy no matter whom voters choose to elect or whichever political party does well. In particular, we can expect acceptable election results with integrity when voters cast their votes under none of any physical or psychological restriction. The South Korean government and the National Election Commission announced that they will allow those in quarantine to cast their votes by putting tight safety control in place after voting sites close at 6 p.m. on Wednesday. It is the moment of forced pause and distance. Election authorities should ensure tight preparations for public safety so that all voters can feel relieved and safe on the election day.