Election watchdog chief rejects resignation calls over early voting lapses

SEOUL– The chief of the state election watchdog said Thursday she will try to do better in preparing upcoming local elections, effectively rejecting calls for her resignation over mishandling of ballots cast by COVID-19 patients during early voting for last week’s presidential election.

Noh Jeong-hee, chairperson of the National Election Commission (NEC), said in an email to 2,900 NEC workers that she feels responsibility and accepts criticism that she was careless in managing the important election.

However, she vowed to fix the problems and thoroughly prepare local elections on June 1, indicating that she will continue in her job despite mounting pressure for her to resign over the blunders in early voting.

“I am not going to avoid my responsibility at any given moment,” she said. “But in order to firmly prepare and manage local elections under the current circumstances, I need to be careful as the chairperson, and I believe that this can be understood as my commitment to take responsibility.”
During a plenary meeting with commission members earlier Thursday, she also hinted at staying in her position.

“Noh said she feels responsibility as the chairperson over the NEC’s current circumstances and that she will do better in managing elections,” said an NEC member who attended the meeting with Noh at its headquarters in Gwacheon, south of Seoul. “She did not say anything about her resigning from the post.”

Noh, also a Supreme Court justice, did not respond to reporters’ questions on her future before and after the meeting.

Earlier, 15 members from the NEC and its local branches demanded Noh issue a public apology and decide her future course of action over the issue.

She took office in November 2020 and her term ends in August 2024.

The NEC came under fire following revelations virus patients and people under self-isolation were not allowed to put their votes into ballot boxes, and election officials instead collected them in plastic bags and other unofficial containers during early voting on March 5.

The practice sparked suspicions of election rigging, though the NEC has flatly rejected such claims.

In Thursday’s meeting, the NEC members approved the resignation of Secretary-General Kim Se-hwan who had offered to step down from the post on Wednesday for lapses in early voting.

Despite her stance, calls for her to step down have grown.

The main opposition People Power Party said she lost public confidence and should hold herself responsible for the fiasco. Even some members of the ruling Democratic Party made the same demand, saying the incident cannot be dismissed as a simple mistake.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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