The Supreme Court ruled on Dec. 19 that the difference in the weight of a vote in the October 2017 House of Representatives election was constitutional.
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Its previous findings on other lower house elections were "in a state of unconstitutionality" for three consecutive times. The latest decision was the first of its kind in 11 years since the court found constitutional in 2007 the vote disparity in the lower chamber race two years earlier.
One of the factors behind the top court's decision on Dec. 19 was that the ratio of the weight of a vote between the most and least populated constituencies was 1 to 1.98, marking the first time the maximum disparity was less than 1 to 2 since the introduction of one-seat constituencies in 1996. The ruling gave a positive mark to the shrinking of the gap, which stood at 1 to 2.13 in the 2014 poll, following the reduction of six one-seat constituencies in 2016.
The Constitution provides for the principle of equality in the value of a vote. When applying this yardstick in judging vote disparity in recent years, the top court ruled that a disparity exceeding 1 to 2, even if the difference is small, was in a state of unconstitutionality and leaving disparities going beyond 1 to 2 was abnormal. A state of unconstitutionality refers to a situation that is not immediately deemed unconstitutional, but could be recognized as such unless the situation is rectified within a rational timeframe.
The second point the Supreme Court gave an approving evaluation to was the introduction by the Diet of a new method of delineating the boundaries of one-seat constituencies across the nation in ways more reflective of the population. The new way will be in place based on the results of the national census of 2020, and more correctional adjustments to the vote disparity are expected.
The Supreme Court has urged the national legislature to review the current arrangement of allocating a separate seat in the lower house to each of the nation's 47 prefectures, saying the system is a major cause of the widening in the gap. The so-called Adams' method of delineating electoral districts, the top court judged, would remove the negative effect of the one-seat application for each prefecture.
A number of countermeasures were discussed in the Diet for easing vote disparity in the lower chamber, and the Adams' method was chosen as a less radical solution. The fact that the Supreme Court chose this point as one of the reasons for its constitutionality ruling should be given more attention.
If introduced, the boundaries of a fairly large number of districts will have to be redrawn, and incumbent lawmakers, who want to protect their turfs, are resistant to the new method. Many legislators from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party are against it because more seats will be shifted from less populated regions to major cities. But the new arrangement has to be accepted in order to respect the constitutional principle of vote value equality.
The Diet is introducing those corrective measures -- first the axing of the six districts, then the Adams' method -- and the Supreme Court indicated its understanding toward that approach. "The gradual correction is being tried in order to maintain the stability of the election system," according to the latest ruling.
Nevertheless, the new delineation method should have been introduced right away two years ago. The Diet should see the Supreme Court ruling as a conditional approval of its correctional efforts, and introduce the Adams' method as soon as the national census will be completed in 2020.