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Japanese voters writing down candidates of choice outdated: experts

Local government officials and others count votes in the previous House of Councillors election in Tokyo's Chuo Ward on July 10, 2016. (Mainichi/Kaho Kitayama)

TOKYO -- Having Japanese voters write down the names of the candidates they select on their ballots is rare for a developed country and one that some experts say is outdated.

Regarding the way of voting in national elections, Article 46 of the Public Offices Election Act stipulates that a voter shall handwrite the name of one candidate on a ballot and put it in a ballot box. However, voters can write down the names of political parties in the House of Councillors proportional representation bloc.

With regard to such a practice, a long-serving legislator said, "I feel happy as a legislator to have my name written by voters."

However, according to the Association for the Promotion of Fair Elections, a public utility organization, "Japan is the only developed country that has a handwriting system for national-level, large-scale elections."

In most other developed countries, voters check the names of candidates listed on the ballot. In the handwriting system, election administration commissions can prepare ballots before candidacies are accepted. However, compared to the system to check the names of candidates, more votes end up being invalid as a result of voters miswriting the names of candidates.

After the Public Offices Election Act was amended in 1994, a system to check the names of candidates was permitted as an option over a certain period of time. However, the system was abolished without being implemented on even a single occasion after opinions grew within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) that politicians' job is to have voters write down their names.

In local elections, local governments can introduce a system to check the names of candidates listed on the ballot if they enact ordinances providing for such a system. The Yachiyo Municipal Government in Chiba Prefecture east of Tokyo and some other local bodies use such a system in mayoral elections.

As to the reason why a system to check the names of candidates listed on ballots has not spread in Japan, Hiroshi Komatsu, professor of constitutional law at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, said Japan has outdated ideas.

"Politicians are under the impression that those who are listed at the top of the ballot are in an advantageous position and those at the bottom are in a disadvantageous position. I've never heard of such discussions in other countries," said Komatsu, adding that "Japan has a Galapagos syndrome" in terms of the voting system.

Japan also uses quite a unique ballot. The ballot, made of a special material called polypropylene resin, was jointly developed by Musashi Co., a manufacturer of election-related goods, and synthetic paper manufacturer Yupo Corp., both based in Tokyo. The ballot was first introduced in the southernmost prefecture of Okinawa in the 2012 House of Representatives election and subsequently spread throughout Japan.

The ballot is being used throughout the nation in the upcoming upper house poll. Voters generally fold ballots before putting them into ballot boxes so that the names of candidates they have written would not be visible to others. The ballot developed by Musashi and Yupo unfolds automatically inside ballot boxes, reducing the time required to count votes.

(Japanese original by Daisuke Okazaki, City News Department)

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