Corona-voting: South Koreans and Americans

Corona-voting: South Koreans and Americans

If you voted this week in South Korea's national elections, you now know a lot more than most of us about how democracy works in a time of pandemic. Standing in line, you kept your distance from other voters. You allowed poll workers to take your temperature and disinfect your hands. You put on gloves. Then you were permitted to vote.

This process was helped along by the willingness of 550,000 of your fellow citizens to serve as poll workers, to disinfect the polling places themselves, and to ensure everything went to plan. Maybe you were part of the 26% of your country's people who voted early or by mail.


By whatever means you voted, you can be proud that your country posted its highest voter turnout (66.2%) in 28 years — despite a still-dangerous health emergency. As for the result, Prime Minister Moon Jae-in's party, which is responsible for the aggressive restrictions meant to contain the virus, won a landslide victory.

Question 1: But will these methods of "corona-voting" work in other countries?

Take the United States, for example, where elections will be held in November. Will people accept the kinds of restrictions that made the South Korean elections safe?

Certainly not everyone. This week, protesters gathered in Michigan and North Carolina to defy the right of government to issue stay-at-home orders and ban large gatherings. More protests like these, as well as protests against government-mandated social distancing, are coming to other states.

These demonstrations are based on a Constitutional argument that government can't impose unwarranted physical restrictions on citizens. "Quarantine is when you restrict movement of sick people. Tyranny is when you restrict the movement of healthy people," said one protest organizer. A growing number of Republican lawmakers support these movements.

Fast forward to November: If COVID-19 remains a fact of life, or if a second wave of infections this fall follows a period of summer quiet, will those Americans who resent government health restrictions keep their distance as they stand in line to vote? Will they allow poll workers to disinfect their hands and take their temperature? Will they don gloves?

There's another question: Will these health precautions prove impossible to implement, because elections in the United States are governed not by the federal government, as in South Korea, but by the not-so-united states themselves? Some states may provide the number of people and equipment needed to enforce these voting rules. Others won't.

Question 2: Does this mean, then, that this year's US elections will be decided by strong voter turnout from those least worried about COVID-19 and weaker turnout from those who most fear infection? If so, that will be a problem for Democrats, since polls have shown Republicans are significantly less concerned about the virus and much more suspicious of government attempts to contain it with restrictions on individual freedom.

But consider this: More than six months from election day, there are six states where competition between President Donald Trump and Democratic Party challenger Joe Biden appears close enough to decide the US presidential election: Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, and Arizona.

All six of those states allow vote by mail without restrictions.

Millions of mailed ballots will pose logistical challenges of their own. There are also congressional elections, where outcomes will be even harder to predict.

But voting by mail in those six crucial states will help avoid arguments about whether fear of COVID-19 elected an American president.

Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

More Show less

Not everyone thinks that President Biden's decision to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by 9/11/21 is a good idea. Conservative Congressman Mike Waltz (R-FL), a combat-decorated Green Beret with multiple tours in Afghanistan, thinks that the US still needs to maintain a small presence in the country to avoid incurring "massive risks." In a spirited discussion with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, Waltz, who served as counterterrorism advisor in the George W. Bush administration, argues, "The next 9/11, the next Pulse Night Club, which is right on the edge of my congressional district, the next San Bernardino, that's now on Biden's watch. He owns it with this decision." Their conversation is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which airs on US public television starting Friday, April 23. Check local listings.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

More Show less

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

More Show less

Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

More Show less

50: The US will aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade. The Biden administration's commitment, double the goal set by Barack Obama almost six years ago, was announced to coincide with a virtual Earth Day climate summit attended by dozens of world leaders.

More Show less

Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened an "asymmetrical, rapid, and harsh" response for anyone that dares to cross a "red line" with Russia.

What's the red line? Putin says he'll decide on a case-by-case basis. And the cases at the moment are growing: the US has sanctioned Russia over cyber crimes; Putin critic Alexei Navalny is near death in a Russian prison; the Czechs say Russia blew up a Czech munitions depot; and as many as 120,000 Russian troops are reported to be massing along Russia's border with Eastern Ukraine.

Which is to say: there's potentially a Sol Lewitt's-worth of red lines to ponder now.

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal