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News Navigator: Can recuperating COVID-19 patients vote in elections in Japan?

Disinfected pencils are seen at an early polling station for the Fukuoka gubernatorial election in Fukuoka's Chuo Ward. (Mainichi/ Yoshiyuki Hirakawa)

The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about the voting rights of Japanese people infected with the coronavirus who are recuperating at home or hotels.

    Question: I heard that people who are infected with the coronavirus and are recovering at home or hotels can't go to voting stations in elections. Is this true?

    Answer: Japanese citizens' voting rights are guaranteed by the Constitution, and COVID-19 patients are no exception. Meanwhile, patients are required not to go out for a certain period under infectious diseases laws. As they are not in principle allowed to go out even if elections are held during this period, there have been a number of cases across the nation in which they could not vote.

    Q: There is a system that allows people to vote from hospitals, isn't there?

    A: There is an absentee ballot system, in which people in designated hospitals or senior care homes can cast their vote, and a postal ballot system, which allows some people with disabilities and those who need nursing care to vote via mail. Both systems are stipulated in the Public Offices Election Act, but there is no system that covers recuperating COVID-19 patients because it was not envisaged that there would be many such people due to the spread of an infectious disease.

    Q: Can't these coronavirus patients recovering at home or hotels vote in the same way as hospitalized people?

    A: According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, which is in charge of election systems, it is possible to set up voting booths at hotels, and there is a move to do so in areas including Hiroshima Prefecture, where a do-over election for a House of Councillors seat will be held on April 25. However, it is unclear if this initiative will spread because many local governments remain concerned over transmission risks for election workers. Though there has been a case in which a person recuperating at home was allowed to cast a vote, local governments are taking different stances on the matter.

    Q: Isn't it problematic if people can or can't vote depending on where they live?

    A: Discussion over how to secure voting opportunities for recuperating COVID-19 patients has already begun in the Diet. Local governments, too, are seeking to respond to the issue: the election administration commissions in seven prefectures including Tokyo, which will have a metropolitan assembly election in July, have submitted written requests to revise the system to the internal affairs ministry. This year, there will be a general election of members of the House of Representative sometime before the end of autumn. We'll see whether a system that can strike a balance between infection prevention and ensuring voting rights will be established.

    (Japanese original by Masanori Hirakawa, Kyushu News Department)

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