Tag Archive | "election"

Meet the Five Korean American Candidates Running for Congress in 2020

By Sonia Kim

Throughout the course of roughly a century since Koreans’ initial migration to the United States, only two Koreans were elected into the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1992, Jay Kim became the very first Korean American to serve in Congress. Almost three decades later in 2018, incumbent Andy Kim became the second Korean American to serve. This year, for the first time in history, a record number of five Korean Americans are vying for seats in the 117th Congress.

Among the Korean American hopefuls in the 2020 election cycle include Andy Kim, who is running for re-election in New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District; David Kim, candidate for California’s 34th Congressional District; Young Kim, candidate for California’s 39th Congressional District; Michelle Park Steel, candidate for California’s 48th Congressional District; and Marilyn Strickland, candidate for Washington’s 10th Congressional District.

Much like the Korean American community as a whole, these five candidates come from diverse backgrounds and experiences, and they represent a wide range of political views. Yet in spite of their differences, common themes that cut across each of the candidates’ campaigns are their immigrant histories and commitment to public service.

Read more about the five Korean American candidates below.

Andy Kim, Congressman, New Jersey 3rd Congressional District.

Andy Kim grew up in South Jersey and spent his entire career in public service. In 2018, he narrowly won a swing district, becoming one of the few Democrats over the past century to hold the seat. Prior to serving as Congressman, he worked as a State Department advisor and later at the National Security Council under President Obama. In his re-election campaign, he is focusing on affordable healthcare, veterans issues, and supporting small businesses. A proud son of Korean immigrants, Andy Kim remains optimistic about what the Korean American community will achieve.



David Kim, Candidate for California 34th Congressional District.

David Kim is an attorney and activist who is now among a new crop of progressive, first-time candidates running for Congress. He was born and raised in the U.S. as a 2nd generation Korean American to immigrant parents. After graduating law school, he worked at the LA County District Attorney’s office on many corruption cases. He also worked as an entertainment attorney to help Asian American and Korean pop artists navigate the U.S. music industry. As a lawyer-turned political candidate, David Kim is fighting for equal access to education, healthcare, and housing for all.




Young Kim, Candidate for California 39th Congressional District.

Young Kim’s bid for Congress has been two decades in the making. She is a first-generation Korean American who became the first Korean American Republican woman elected to California’s Assembly. Before her time in office, she worked in finance and started her own small business in the women’s clothing industry. In 2018, she ran an unsuccessful campaign as the Republican Party candidate for CA-39. If elected this time around, Young Kim pledges to address homelessness, reform the immigration system, and lower regulations for businesses.




Michelle Park Steel, Candidate for California 48th Congressional District.

Born in South Korea, Michelle Park Steel is an American government official. After moving to the U.S., she continued her studies and became active in Republican Party politics. She is currently Chairman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors. Previously, she was elected to the California State Board of Equalization and served on various commissions in the George W. Bush administration. Her campaign platforms revolve around lowering taxes and securing the border. As an immigrant, Michelle Park Steel shares how she has been fortunate to live the American Dream.



Marilyn Strickland, Candidate for Washington 10th Congressional District.

Marilyn Strickland is a Democratic politician and businesswoman. In the past, she served on the Tacoma City Council for two years before being elected mayor. Having the lens of local government, she hopes to bring a unique perspective to Congress. Her campaign focuses on returning economic prosperity to Tacoma through investment in jobs, infrastructure and education. As an African American and Korean American, Marilyn Strickland embraces both identities and seeks to use her different cultures and experiences to build coalitions across the aisle.



All headshots courtesy of Korean Americans for Political Action.

Sonia Kim is an intern at the Korea Economic Institute of America. She is a recent graduate from Harvard College with a degree in Government and East Asian Studies. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Picture from Wikimedia Commons user Bjoertvedt

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Regionalism: Fading Shadow or Unyielding Ghost?

By Ingyeong Park

Are Korean citizens still voting based on their region’s long-standing affiliation with the conservative or liberal party? This is a perennial question in South Korea after every election, and the latest general election on April 15 was no different. Even though President Moon Jae-in’s ruling Democratic Party clinched a landslide victory, traditionally progressive Honam region (North and South Jeolla Provinces) and traditionally conservative Yeongnam region (North and South Gyeongsang Provinces) appeared unwilling to shift their political allegiances. However, a closer look at the data suggests that these voting patterns may not be a hard-set rule in the years ahead.

Political regionalism is a prominent feature in modern Korean political history. During the 7th presidential election in 1971, Park Chung-hee from the conservative party focused his campaign on the Yeongnam Region while his progressive rival Kim Dae-jung concentrated his efforts in the Honam region. In the end, Park Chung-hee won 65.62% of the votes in South Gyeongsang province and 73.35% in North Gyeongsang. Similarly, Kim Dae-jung won the majority of the votes in the Jeolla Provinces.

This pattern of voting remained a prominent electoral dynamic even after democratization in 1987. According to research by Ajou University Professor Moon Woojin, although the effects of regionalism did soften in the 1996 and 2000 legislative elections, its impact on elections has not diminished in the intervening years.

Some reports covering the 2020 National Assembly elections suggested that regionalism had deepened. Candidates from the conservative United Future Party won in 56 constituencies out of 65 open seats in the Yeongnam region, while progressive candidates from the Democratic Party won 27 out of 28 districts in the Honam region. In fact, the Democratic Party secured fewer seats in the Yeongnam region compared to the previous general election.

However, outcomes from individual district races may not present the full picture. Despite conservative party candidates winning most of the seats in the Yeongnam region, the number of votes gained by the Democratic Party in the region has increased compared to the last general election. In the 2016 legislative election, only  8 of the 18 candidates from the Democratic Party in the city of Busan (sitting in the heart of South Gyeongsang Province) won more than 40% of the votes. In the most recent contest, 16 candidates from the progressive camp won more than 40% of the votes in the city.

According to the newspaper Hankyoreh, the increased share of the votes that the Democratic Party received in the Yeongnam region is reflected in the number of proportional seats gained compared to the last general election. The outlet also mentioned that evidence of persistent regionalism may be an optical illusion created by the first-past-the-post voting system.

The bigger concern for the future of the electoral system is whether the newly implemented mixed-member proportional representation (PR) system would be able to elevate the representation of minority parties as it was intended. So far, the two major parties have proven capable of cannibalizing votes intended for smaller parties by creating satellite parties. This will likely become a growing issue in future elections.

Ingyeong Park is currently an intern at the Korea Economic Institute. She is a student of political science and diplomacy at Ajou University. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Picture from the user Republic of Korea on Flickr 

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Koreans Vote for Continuity with the Ruling Party

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

What Happened

  • On April 15, South Korea held its 20th National Assembly election.
  • The ruling Democratic Party (DP) and its satellite party won 180 out of 300 seats, while the main opposition United Future Party (UFP) and its satellite party won 103 seats.
  • Lee Nak-yeon, former prime minister and a strong presidential candidate, won by a 20% margin against UFP leader Hwang Kyo-ahn who was also considered a potential presidential candidate before the election.

Implications: Power shifts between the two major parties over the past several election cycles suggest that Korean voters are more comfortable voting for the party in power. The recent trend diverges from the established assumption that voters tend to vote for the opposition party to check the ruling party. Since 2004, South Korea has seen more cases of the president’s party winning the legislative election or the candidate from the party with a parliamentary majority winning the presidential election. This year’s general election followed this trend, further encouraging the public to see it as a preview of the 2022 presidential election. With the DP’s three-fifths majority in the National Assembly, media outlets are openly speculating that former Prime Minister Lee’s odds in the presidential election have significantly increased.

Context: Since 2004, South Korea mostly had the same party in power in both the executive and legislative branches. In the 2012 legislative election, the conservative party won and then swept the presidential election later that year. The liberal party won the 2016 general election and liberal candidate Moon Jae-in won the 2017 presidential election after President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment. Going further back, incumbent president Lee Myung-bak’s conservative party won the 2008 legislative election by a wide margin – and in the 2004 legislative election, President Roh Moo-hyun’s liberal party secured a majority in the National Assembly.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Gordon Henning, Soojin Hwang, Hyungim Jang, and Ingyeong Park.

Photo from the Republic of Korea’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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High Turnout Points to Policy Success

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

What Happened

  • 66.2% voter turnout in the recent National Assembly election was the highest in 28 years.
  • Voter participation has gradually increased since 2008 when turnout was at 46.1%.
  • Lawmakers’ decision in December 2019 to lower the voting age from 19 to 18 increased the number of eligible voters by 530,000.

Implications: While many have attributed the heightened voter turnout to President Moon’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, persistent efforts to increase the pool of eligible voters deserve attention. Since 2008, lawmakers adopted successive measures to enfranchise a greater number of cohorts. As a result, suffrage was extended to overseas residents in 2012. There was also a parallel increase in demand for expanded suffrage during the past few years. Notably, protests in 2016-17 against President Park Geun-hye may have motivated younger South Koreans to demand voting rights. Polling of high school students in 2017 showed a 41.3% year-to-year increase in support for lowering the voting age from 19 to 18.

Context: As previously highlighted in the previous issue of Korea View, government support for the newly franchised voters did not keep pace with the expansion of suffrage in many areas. A proposal to increase the number of polling booths abroad was rejected by the National Assembly in 2019. Simultaneously, the government was unable to respond effectively to citizens abroad who were unable to vote in their local diplomatic missions and requested vote-by-mail. Similarly, the government’s plan to educate newly franchised 18-year voters also fell short because of schools being shuttered to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Gordon Henning, Soojin Hwang, Hyungim Jang, and Ingyeong Park.

Photo from the Republic of Korea’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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How Does South Korea’s New Election System Work?

By Soo Jin Hwang

Last year, South Korea adopted a new mixed-member proportional representation (PR) system. The revision aimed to improve representation by making it easier for previously underrepresented political parties to win a larger share of seats in the National Assembly. Simultaneously, it was a politically advantageous move for the ruling Democratic Party (DP), which calculated that opposition parties would lose more influence in the legislature. Aware that the new PR system would likely disadvantage its chances at the polls, the main opposition United Future Party (UFP) – until recently the Liberty Korea Party – tried to hedge by creating a satellite party. This prompted the DP to take similar measures in response. As a consequence of these maneuvers, voters at today’s election received the longest ballot in Korea’s election history. More pressingly, these countermeasures by the major parties may ultimately undercut the effort to make politics more inclusive.

How does the new system work?

The revised PR system disadvantages major parties because it distributes proportional seats based on the new “compensatory system.” The new calculation aims to offset overrepresentation from district seat races (determined through first-past-the-post voting). Of the 47 seats reserved for PR, 30 are allocated through the new compensatory system which subtracts the number of district seats that the party won from the percentage of votes cast for the party, and then divides the number by two.

The remaining 17 slots are allocated based on the “parallel voting system” which has been used for all PR seat distribution before the reform. For instance, Table 1 and Table 2 shows that Party A gets less, and Party B gets more seats under the new law.

Political Maneuvering Around Electoral Reform

Since parties that won more district seats would be awarded fewer seats reserved for PR, this new electoral system was disadvantageous for bigger parties. The purpose of the revision was to allow minor parties to be better represented in the legislature and make South Korean politics, traditionally dominated by two major parties, more inclusive.

Aware that this new electoral system would cost them seats, the main opposition party tried to prevent the bill from passing. By contrast, the ruling DP pushed hard to pass the bill because it maintains close relations with smaller liberal parties. Together, they agree on several essential platforms. As a result, the DP saw the electoral reform as a vehicle to empower their ally parties while reducing UFP’s seats.

When the electoral reform bill was finally passed, UFP introduced a satellite party, Future Korea Party (FKP), which would only compete for PR seats. This was an effort to offset the number of seats that the conservative opposition party would lose under the new compensatory system. In response, the ruling DP formed Together Citizens’ Party (TCP) to counter UFP’s tactics. Both UFP and DP were criticized for these maneuvers.

Despite the public criticism, the two parties still considered the creation of satellite parties to be advantageous. As evident in the scenarios laid out in Table 1 and Table 2, Party C – which would have gained a total of 9 PR seats under the previous electoral system – can gain around 19 PR seats with a satellite party under the new system. Party A, in Table 2, has more than twice of support than party C, and yet, only receives 5 PR seats.


The reform is not likely to bring immediate change in the South Korean political landscape. By raising the chances of minor parties winning more seats in the National Assembly, the new system did prompt several organizations and new minor parties to register and run in today’s election . For instance, North Korean refugees in South Korea created a political party for the first time. There is also a party called Chungcheong Future Party, which only focuses on constituencies in Chungcheong Province.

Many other groups sought to launch a party this year, but failed to meet the minimum number of registered members required to compete in the election. Nonetheless, their pledges are still eye-catching. For example, Marriage Future Party is a party that is focused on assisting with marriages and childcare. Another example is the Nuclear Party that supports South Korea’s withdrawal from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and building nuclear weapons.

Merits of these political platforms aside, unless the two major parties embrace the reform without trying to bypass it with their satellite parties, these new minor parties are unlikely to achieve anything more than making the ballot longer for voters on election day.

Soo Jin Hwang is currently an intern at the Korea Economic Institute. She holds a master’s degree in Security Studies from Georgetown University. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Picture from user Republic of Korea on Flickr 

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How to Hold an Election During a Pandemic

By Ingyeong Park

In the midst of a global pandemic, South Korea is set to hold a general election today.  This a major undertaking as South Korea attempts to thread the needle between ensuring suffrage to all eligible voters (including people who may be infected with COVID-19) and keeping uninfected voters safe from exposure. Measures adopted by South Korean officials, if successful, may provide a blueprint for how other democratic societies might hold their elections during a pandemic.

Early voting turnout

Contrary to predictions that the pandemic would result in a low voter turnout, early voting on April 10 and 11 drew 26.69 percent of eligible voters nationwide. This is the highest turnout for a national election since the introduction of the early voting system.

There are several speculations on why early voting turnout was so high. First, the coronavirus may have led to more talk about politics with family and friends. Second, voters may have opted to cast ballots early to avoid contact with others at polling stations on the election day. Third,  there are more competitive battleground districts. According to the Hankyoreh, early voting turnout was relatively higher in districts where high-profile candidates from the ruling and opposition parties competed against each other. For example, In Seoul, early voting in Jongro – where former Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon from the ruling Minjoo Party and Hwang Kyo-ahn, leader of the opposition party, are competing for the district’s seat – recorded the highest turnout at 34.68 percent. In Suseonggap, another competitive district in the city of Daegu, 30.18 percent of eligible voters came to the polls.

Preparations for the election

On the day of the election, personnel at polling stations will check for fevers with a contactless thermometer at the entrance. Voters will wear disposable plastic gloves after sanitizing their hands. After the fever check, those with body temperature above 37.5 degrees or respiratory symptoms will vote at a temporary voting booth, and the temporary voting booth will be disinfected immediately after use. Official personnel at polling stations will be required to maintain a distance of 1 meter between voters, and periodically ventilate polling stations.

The personnel will also provide language interpretation services through video calls for the hearing-impaired for the first time in Korea’s electoral history.

After the election, district votes can be automatically counted through a machine. However, proportional representation ballots will be counted manually because they are too long for existing machines. The voting and ballot counting will be broadcast live on the Korea Election Broadcasting System in real-time.

How do people who are quarantined vote?

According to the government’s guidelines, the government will guarantee suffrage for people who are in quarantine. Eligible voters who received a self-quarantine notice between April 1 and 14 can vote if they are not asymptomatic on the day of the main vote. When public voting ends, the government will temporarily lift quarantine from 5:20 p.m. to 7 p.m. for these voters to come to their local polling stations.

Officials hope that this separation between the movement of the general public and the self-quarantined would prevent possible transmission of the virus. A public official will accompany quarantined voters from their residence to the polling place to ensure that they comply with the rules. In addition, dedicated personnel wearing safety masks and gloves will manage the voting process at polling stations where quarantined voters will submit their ballots.

Ingyeong Park is an intern at the Korea Economic Institute. Ingyeong is a student at Ajou University, pursuing a degree in Political Science and DiplomacyThe views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Picture from user Republic of Korea on Flickr 

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Korea’s Effort to Expand the Number of Eligible Voters

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

What Happened

  • 88,000 overseas South Koreans (51.2% of total overseas citizens) in 57 countries are excluded from voting in the upcoming National Assembly election.
  • About 4,300 people signed a national petition requesting voting by post.
  • There were appeals to the constitutional court and a social media campaign to guarantee suffrage for overseas residents.
  • Overseas citizens registered the lowest-ever voter turnout of 23.8 percent.

Implications: In contrast to the rapid response by public health authorities to COVID-19, the South Korean bureaucracy has been less agile in responding to challenges to democratic rights that stem from the pandemic – even when their inflexibility appears to contradict the government’s own long-held objectives. South Korea has been expanding the base of eligible voters over the past several years, but the COVID-19 pandemic revealed that the government was insufficiently prepared to guarantee these rights during a crisis. In response to many local South Korean diplomatic missions suspending in-person polling, the National Election Commission (NEC) has not offered a realistic alternative for overseas citizens. In response to requests to submit ballots by mail, the NEC maintained that such measures are only applicable to patients, not to overseas residents.

Context: Efforts to expand suffrage have not been executed consistently. Voting rights were extended to overseas residents in 2012. But a proposal to increase the number of polling booths in 2019 was rejected in the National Assembly. Similarly, the government planned to educate 20,000 newly franchised 18-year old voters. However, these programs were canceled in the wake of COVID-19. The Office of Education recommended that students watch a video from NEC instead. This led to criticisms that the quality of education was superficial.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Gordon Henning, Soojin Hwang, Hyungim Jang, and Ingyeong Park.

Picture by user 고려 from Wikimedia Commons

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The Peninsula blog is a project of the Korea Economic Institute. It is designed to provide a wide ranging forum for discussion of the foreign policy, economic, and social issues that impact the Korean peninsula. The views expressed on The Peninsula are those of the authors alone, and should not be taken to represent the views of either the editors or the Korea Economic Institute. For questions, comments, or to submit a post to The Peninsula, please contact us at ts@keia.org.