When it comes to equality in voting rights, there is an issue in Japan that cannot be overlooked.
In the recent House of Representatives election, trouble erupted with the delayed delivery of voting slips to eligible Japanese living overseas, and with voters not being able to cast their ballots on time.
There are more than 1 million eligible voters overseas. To be able to cast a ballot from overseas, a person needs to be registered, and some 100,000 people have done this. When there is an election, the person can either go to a Japanese diplomatic mission overseas or mail in their vote.
In postal voting for the House of Representatives election, a local government usually sends out balloting papers after the lower house is dissolved based on requests submitted by the registered voters. The voters then fill in the voting papers and post them back.
This time, local bodies needed to send out voting papers from the end of August, 60 days before the terms of lower house legislators were due to expire. But not all local bodies were aware of this, and some papers were sent out just before the lower house was dissolved.
Not only was there only a short 17-day period from the time the lower house was dissolved until voting day, but international mail was delayed due to the spread of the coronavirus. An investigation by the Mainichi Shimbun found that nearly 40% of the people who requested voting papers from Tokyo's 23 wards did not actually vote. It is possible that many of them gave up on casting their ballots because their votes could not be received on time. In nearly 10% of cases, the voting papers sent in from overseas did not arrive by the deadline.
Municipalities that were late in sending voting papers should seriously reflect on their shortcomings. But at the same time, the process from sending requests for voting paper requests to sending the papers in requires three one-way international mail deliveries, which is unreasonable to begin with.
Another problem with postal voting is that Japanese nationals abroad cannot vote in the national review of justices of the Supreme Court. The reason given for this is that "papers listing the names of justices are not able to be delivered in time," but last year, the Tokyo High Court ruled such a state of affairs unconstitutional.
Calls have arisen from Japanese nationals overseas to allow online voting. A study group of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications has already compiled a report recommending that this be permitted for voting from overseas. The method would involve using a My Number card to confirm the person's identity.
There is various debate regarding the introduction of online voting in Japan, with deep-rooted concerns about security countermeasures remaining. It is feared that such a system could be subject to cyberattacks and network failures.
The government is collaborating with local bodies to conduct demonstration experiments. As mistakes cannot be permitted, it is only natural to take all necessary precautions.
If online voting is introduced, it is natural that preference should be given to voting from overseas, which is highly necessary and which would have a lesser impact on the system. While proceeding with verification work within the government, Japan needs to launch full-scale discussions at the political party level.