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Ministry panel calls for internet voting for overseas Japanese voters

Staffers at the Consulate-General of Japan in Shanghai prepare ballots for Japanese residents of the city on July 12, 2007, in preparation for a House of Councillors election. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- An expert panel of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications that has been discussing ways to improve the voting environment for Japanese nationals proposed on Aug. 10 that Japanese voters overseas be allowed to cast their ballots online for elections back home.

    The ministry plans to conduct an online voting experiment for voters abroad in fiscal 2019. The panel, headed by Tokyo Metropolitan University professor emeritus Tsutomu Isobe, who specializes in administrative laws, requested that online voting for domestic voters be discussed after the validity of the overseas system is confirmed.

    Japanese residents in foreign countries are currently allowed to cast votes through Japanese embassies and consulates or by mailing their ballots if they have resided in a place for over three months and are registered as voters abroad.

    In the House of Representatives elections in October last year, there were 100,090 eligible voters abroad, but only 21,193 of them actually voted in single-seat constituencies. Reasons behind the low voter turnout of 21.17 percent appear to include the time-consuming process of visiting embassies and consulates and preparing postal votes.

    Under the online voting system proposed by the ministry panel, voters will be able to log into an online voting site using the My Number identification system used by Japanese central and local governments, as long as they are registered with the last place they lived in Japan.

    To introduce such a system, relevant laws such as the Public Offices Election Act and the law concerning public personal authentication need to be revised.

    Voters stand in line for early voting in a House of Representatives election at the Nara Municipal Government headquarters on Oct. 21, 2018. (Mainichi)

    The panel also proposed making it possible for voters to receive ballots even when they are outside of registered areas, improving conditions at polling stations for people with disabilities, and increasing the number of early voting stations.

    The panel of experts has been in discussion since December of last year, as the voter turnout during the 2017 lower house election was the second lowest of the postwar period, at 53.68 percent for single-seat constituencies.

    (Japanese original by Shinya Hamanaka, Political News Department)

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