As South Korea geared up for elections in April, social media posts shared a photo of a stack of ballot papers they misleadingly claimed was evidence of vote rigging in the country’s 2020 polls. The picture was taken by a lawyer who alleged votes cast for the Democratic Party in the city of Guri did not have any fold marks, suggesting they were fraudulently filled out. However, the Supreme Court ruled ballots without clear fold marks were not proof of fraud. A legal bid to challenge election results in Guri was dismissed.

The photo, which was shared on Facebook on March 8, 2024, shows a bundle of ballot papers.

The top one shows a vote cast for the Democratic Party’s Yun Ho-jung, who was elected member of parliament for Guri in 2020 (archived link).

Yun’s party won in a landslide and secured the most number of seats in the National Assembly.

Korean text below the picture says police must “prevent the emergence of piles of printed ballots like these during the April 10, 2024 poll”.

<span>Screenshot of the Facebook post, taken on March 15</span>

Screenshot of the Facebook post, taken on March 15

A reverse image search on Google found the photo was originally posted on Facebook by lawyer Park Joo-hyun on May 21, 2020.

“Evidence preserved from the Guri Election Commission,” he wrote in Korean.

“How come the ballot papers inside the early absentee voting envelope are so stiff? They’re as stiff as newly printed banknotes!”

He told South Korean daily Chosun Ilbo that the “stiff” early voting ballots — those that looked fresh and without apparent creases — were suspicious as voters would have to fold them in half to fit the return envelope (archived link).

Similar posts misleadingly claiming the photo was evidence of fraud have circulated online since the 2020 vote here, here and here.

Court cases

However, Korea’s Supreme Court rejected a similar argument in a case it heard alleging fraud in the 2020 elections.

The case — filed in a district in Incheon, southwest of the capital Seoul — argued ballots without fold marks should be considered forgeries.

The court ruled in July  2022 that the absence of fold marks alone did not provide evidence of irregularities (archived link).

It noted the ballots were small enough to be put in the ballot box without folding or placed in the return envelope for absentee, early voters.

Moreover, the court said it used a microscope to examine the ballots that the plaintiff claimed to have no fold marks and in fact found marks on a significant number of them.

The plaintiff was not identified in the ruling.

In addition, the election commission said in its invalid ballots guideline that unfolded ballots were considered valid unless the voter intentionally disclosed their vote (archived link).

As of March 22, 2024, no evidence of rigging in the 2020 election emerged, despite multiple cases filed in court.

According to South Korea’s election commission, 126 lawsuits sought to nullify various poll results in 2020 but no vote rigging was substantiated to date (archived link).

In Guri city, where the picture circulating online was taken, two legal bids challenged the results, a representative from the commission told AFP on March 18.

One of the bids was dropped while the court dismissed the other due to the applicant’s failure to follow proper civil procedure, the representative added.

Ballot paper

Ballot papers have “better crease recovery” compared to regular paper, the election commission representative also said.

A representative from Moorim SP — one of two paper manufacturers that supply ballot paper in South Korea — separately told AFP on March 20: “If ballots are folded, they are unfolded before being put into a sorter. If the ballot paper’s ability to recover from creasing is poor, it causes jamming and hinders the automated sorting process.”

The election commission confirmed to AFP the same type of paper will be used for ballots in the upcoming April poll.

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