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Voters with disabilities show mixed reactions to polling station staff casting ballots for them

Yasuhiro Nakata, center, negotiates with a staff member at an early voting polling station as he tries to get his helper to vote on his behalf, in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, on Oct. 18, 2017. (Pool photo)

TOYONAKA, Osaka -- With voting on behalf of citizens with disabilities who are unable to write being restricted to polling station staff, it has emerged that people's reactions to this law appear mixed.

One voter with a disability, who filed a suit claiming that the law that only polling station staff can vote on behalf of citizens who are unable to write violates the Constitution, visited an early voting polling station here on Oct. 18, hoping that his helper would be allowed to vote for him.

Upon arriving at the polling station, 45-year-old Yasuhiro Nakata, who has congenital cerebral palsy, stated clearly: "I want my helper to mark my ballot paper for me." However, his request was denied. He was told by a member of staff that, "Only the staff here can do that for you" -- in accordance with the Public Offices Election Act. Frustrated, Nakata gave up on his mission to vote and went home.

Nakata had previously asked his helper to vote on his behalf. However, under an amendment made to the Public Offices Election Act in 2013, only polling station staff are allowed to perform this particular task.

Based on the rationale that conveying one's vote in front of others at a polling station infringes "the confidentiality of voting" stipulated under the Constitution, Nakata filed a lawsuit at the Osaka District Court in March demanding that the government allow him to select a specific helper to vote on his behalf.

On the other hand, a 57-year-old disabled acquaintance of Nakata, who also visited an early voting polling station on the same day, chose to ask a staff member to vote on his behalf. The acquaintance said the name of his preferred candidate in a loud voice, after which the staff member replied, "Is this OK?" before placing his slip in the ballot box.

The acquaintance argues that, "I don't want people close to me to know who I am voting for. I prefer to go through a (third party) polling station staff member" -- reminding us that people's attitudes to proxy voting are different.

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