화요일, 5월 30, 2006

Voting in Korea

My brother-in-law, who is completing his mandatory service in a public records office, mentioned to me the other day that foreigners such asmyself would be able to participate in upcoming elections. This came to me as quite a surprise, and I had all sorts of questions about this, whether this meant I could vote in the national elections, run for office, or what.

The Korea Times has an article about the changes to Korean election laws. It says:

Foreigners with permanent residency here will cast ballots in the upcoming local elections in May, exercising their voting rights for the first time to elect governors, mayors and council members.

According to the National Election Commission (NEC), foreigners who have lived here for three years or longer since they obtained permanent residency, will be allowed to vote in the local elections on May 31 if they are 19 years or older.

South Korea revised the election law last August to allow foreigners voting rights.

The law enables 6,579 foreigners, including 6,511 with Taiwanese roots, to participate in voting to elect mayors, governors and council members.

They also include 51 Japanese, eight Americans, five Chinese and two Germans.

They need to register themselves on the list of foreign residents kept by local governments before the elections.

Since I'm registered as a Canadian (although I have dual citizenship), I assumed wasn't on the list.

However, a few days later a package arrived in the mail addressed to myself with a booklet in English and Korean giving instructions on the election process. I double checked the eligibility requirements for voting and read the following exerpt (bold/italics mine):

2. Right to Vote

0 Voting age : 19 years of age and above as of the election day

(born before June 1, 1987)


Foreigners with following qualifications are entitled to vote;

- Pursuant to the Immigration Control Act, acquired and have maintained permanent residential status(F-5 visa) for over three years,

- and have been enrolled in the Register of Foreign Residents of the local jurisdiction.

^ Foreigners whose age are 19 or more and have F-5 visa are eligible to vote.

The one line states correctly, that one must possess the F-5 visa for over three years; however, the last line confuses things by saying that the requirements for voting are simply being over 19 and having an F-5 visa. The Korean version is equally confusing.

I recently received my F-5 visa, which is basically a permanent residence visa allowing me a degree of economic freedom. (It is granted to, among others, spouses who have maintained an F-2 visa status for at least two years. For me, one of the main advantages is not having to reapply for a visa extension every year (and paying the related fees). I can also seek any legal employment without having to get permission from immigration.)

My wife called the local office, and they confirmed that I was not eligible to vote if I had just received the F-5 visa.

However, this morning I received a package with informational pamphlets from all the candidates, an instructional sheet in both English and Chinese, and a paper that has my name listed as a voter (선거인성명-----) along with what seems to be a voter registration number (선거인명부등 번호) It seems that, eligible or not, I am on the list of eligible voters.

Here’s another excerpt from the Voter’s Guide that describes how the voters’ list is drawn up:

3. Voters' List

Whenever an election is held, the heads of the Gu/Si/Eup/Myeon shall prepare and organize voters' list by voting districts based on the Register of Foreign Residents.

On the Gu/Si/Gun internet home pages and at the places designated by the heads of the Gu/Si/Eup/Myeon, the voters' list is offered to voters for public inspection from May 17 through May 19, 2006(for 3 days). In case of perusal via the internet, personal information is accessible only after self-identification process is completed.

Claims for correction of the list may be layed to the heads of Gu/Si/Eup/Myeon in case of listing of any disqualified persons, ommission of any qualified persons, or incorrect information are found. A person not satisfied with a decision on the claim above may appeal against it. If a person considers that he/she has been left out of the list without justification, he/she can demand Gu/Si/Gun ECs to add him/her to the list by submitting relevant documents to prove his/her eligibility.

Until today, I assumed that I was not on the list and was only mailed the guide in error, but it seems that I have also been placed on the voter’s list and have my own voter's number. Our voting office is only 20 meters from our apartment, so it’s tempting to show up and see whether or not I am in fact allowed to vote.

I think it’s a bit unusual to allow foreign residents to participate in elections, and Korea is the first country in Asia to extend this privilege. In Canada this is one of the few important distinctions between rights of Canadian citizen and a permanent resident. My father spent over half his life as a permanent resident in Canada before applying for citizenship, and he taught Canadian Civics to high school classes for years before he was first able to cast a vote himself.

The rationale in Korea is that permanent residents, if they are to be contributing members of their local society, should be able to participate in selecting the representatives who will have a significant impact on local business and living conditions. This makes sense, especially in those rural counties where foreign spouses make up up to 20% of the local population.

I welcome the opportunity to vote in Korea—it makes me feel that I can become a little less of an “outsider.” It seems that the system has a few wrinkles to be ironed out, however.

Comments are welcome, and here are a few links to articles on the subject:

Hankook Ilbo

Science Daily

Hankyoreh Editorial

Chosun Ilbo - A Lifelong Chinese Resident Votes for the First Time

Korea Times - Similar Story

Korea Herald

PostScript A somewhat unrelated and mildly humorous story:

Shortly after I first came to Korea, there was an election in Canada and my parents and brother went together to vote. I was listed under my parents’ address. The election officer consulted the voter’s list and asked about me. My brother, who has a tendency to say things without considering how they might be construed (he truthfully declared to a US customs officer that he was radioactive as a result of his thyroid treatments and was as a result subjected to a Geiger counter scan before being allowed to pass) said “Oh, he’s not around anymore.” The officer said “OK,” and crossed my name off the list, writing DECEASED next to my name. It was fortunate that my mom spotted the error, or I could have some trouble proving my identity when I return to Canada. Just goes to show that even a well-oiled system can be prone to human error!


At 10:14 오후 GMT+9, Blogger Joe said...

Dunno if it's a first in Asia; I've heard that some places in Japan let permanent residents vote in local elections.

At 3:33 오전 GMT+9, Blogger skindleshanks said...

I read the first in Asia thing in one of those newspaper articles there--it's too late to check--I have to get up and vote tomorrow! :)

I've heard that some European countries allow limited voting by foreign residents--it would be interesting to know which ones, etc.

At 6:41 오전 GMT+9, Anonymous 익명 said...

Call me a reactionary if you will (as perhaps I am!), but somehow it's always seemed to me that:

You do military service, and otherwise bear any and all duties of citizenship: you vote.

You circumvent any of these duties, on whatever basis, and you don't vote.

Meanwhile, elections back home in the States are just plain stolen: a plain-as-your-nose fact which I won't even bother to substantiate.

At least the votes here in SK may, in fact, be tabulated!


At 1:04 오후 GMT+9, Blogger Simon says said...

You have researched this very well. To vote, or not to vote. Allowed, or not allowed. These are the questions!

At 1:19 오후 GMT+9, Blogger skindleshanks said...

I agree that voting for national leaders should be a privilege of citizenship. However, permanent residence in a locale could be considered a type of citizenship. I contribute to the local economy and public welfare, I pay my taxes (probably more scrupulously than the average citizen), etc. Are these not the duties one has to their district? I think it is a good thing that we can have some degree of influence in the town where we reside.

Canada won't allow me to vote in any elections if I'm not a resident there. There's more to enfranchisement than just citizenship, and so I think this is an excellent move for Korea.

I don't expect and don't think it would be a good idea to allow foreigners to participate in National Elections.

At 1:25 오후 GMT+9, Blogger skindleshanks said...

"Korea is now the first nation in Asia to grant voting rights to foreign residents. We hope this would accelerate a move to integrate foreign communities into the homogenous society," said Kim Cheol, deputy director of public relations at the Nation Election Commission.

This is from the Korean Herald:

At 11:38 오후 GMT+9, Blogger naughtygaz said...

Cool that you can vote! I've been having a hard time finding info on the web relating to F-5 visa's, and would appreciate any info you can throw my way.


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