In line with the provisions of Article 114 of the constitution, the National Election Commission (NEC) was established as an independent constitutional body on January 21, 1963. It is tasked with managing elections and national referenda fairly, and to deal with administrative affairs concerning political parties and political funds. Between 1948 and 1963, the NEC was an administrative body under the Ministry of Interior and Safety.
In 1987, a constitutional revision gave the commission the right to enact internal regulations. It then started to monitor and regulate illegal election campaigning.
In 1992, the Election Commission Act was revised to strengthen the Commission and allow it to submit a bill to the National Assembly when it deems necessary to enact a new law or amend an existing law concerning elections. The Act also details regulations on the establishment and duties of Election Commissions at each level, appointment procedures and qualifications of election commissioners, and the chairperson’s and full-time commissioner’s authority and roles. It is an independent consensus-based constitutional body on the same level as the National Assembly, the National Government, Judicial Courts and the Constitutional Court.
Election commissions in South Korea have a four-tier organizational structure:
- At the top is the NEC (National Election Commission);
- Then there are 17 Si (special metropolitan, metropolitan city)/Do (province) election commissions;
- 249 Gu (district)/Si (city)/Gun (county) election commissions; and
- 3,486 Eup/Myeon/ Dong (township) election commissions.
In addition, there are “Overseas election commissions” temporarily established at Korean diplomatic missions for presidential and National Assembly elections.
The NEC is composed of nine commissioners, including one chairperson and one full-time commissioner. Three are appointed by the President, three are elected by the National Assembly and three are nominated by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, subject to a confirmation hearing at the National Assembly. The Chairperson is elected by a consensus vote from among the commissioners. Commissioners are appointed for six-year terms and cannot be removed, except by impeachment due to a sentence of imprisonment or a heavier punishment, involvement in politics, or being affiliated with a political party.
Customarily, a Justice of the Supreme Court is elected to be the Chairperson of the NEC. As the Chairperson holds the additional position of Supreme Court Judge, it is not possible for him/her to be committed on a full time basis to the affairs of the election commission. Therefore a Standing Commissioner supports the Chairperson and oversees the NEC secretariat. The Standing Commissioner has a term of three years.
As of March 2020, there were about 2,900 civil servants working at the national and regional level election commissions, including 370 officials at the NEC, 630 officials at Si/Do election commissions and 1,900 officials at Gu/Si/Gun election commissions. The NEC Secretariat is made up of a Secretary General (ministerial level position), a Deputy Secretary General (deputy ministerial level), two chief officers, six departments, one independent office, one training institute and 26 divisions.
Si/Do election commissions are composed of a Chairperson, a Standing Commissioner, and a set number of commissioners. The Chairperson is elected by a consensus vote from among the commissioners. The Standing Commissioner is a civil servant nominated by the NEC. The commission is composed of one commissioner recommended by each political party with a negotiation group in the National Assembly, three commissioners recommended by the chief judge of a district court and three commissioners from the academic and education fields. Gu/Si/Gun election commissions are composed of a Chairperson, Vice Chairperson, and a set number of commissioners. The Chairperson and the Vice Chairperson are elected by a consensus vote among the commissioners. The commission is composed of one commissioner recommended by each political party with a negotiation group in the National Assembly, and six commissioners who are respected in the academic and education fields
The NEC established several affiliated agencies: the Internet Election News Deliberation Commission (IENDC) was founded in 2014 to ensure the impartiality of election related information on the internet; the Election Broadcasting Debate Commission (EBDC) in 2004 to manage broadcast speeches and debates fairly; the National Election Survey Deliberation Commission (NESDC) in 2014 to ensure the objectivity credibility of election polls. These three agencies are subordinate bodies of NEC to pursue the fair election results.