Devise ways for overseas nationals to easily exercise their right to vote

During the recent House of Representatives election, there were cases in which voters living abroad could not effectively use the overseas voting system.

It is necessary to establish a system that is easy to use, and Japanese nationals living abroad should also have a greater sense of participating in national politics.

The overseas voting system was introduced in the proportional representation segment of the 2000 lower house election. Later, the system also became available in voting for single-seat constituencies in lower house races and House of Councillors elections. The system has expanded with support in the form of calls for guaranteeing overseas residents the opportunity to exercise their voting rights.

Nevertheless, it can hardly be said that the system is being used effectively.

For the latest lower house election, about 100,000 people were registered as voters living abroad, and slightly less than 20,000 actually voted. About 1 million Japanese nationals eligible to vote are said to be living abroad, meaning that the registration rate was 10% and voter turnout only about 2%.

First, efforts must be made to increase the number of registrants.

To register, voters must apply to the Japanese Embassy or Japanese Consulate with jurisdiction over the region where they reside, or to their local government’s administrative services before leaving Japan.

Applications at overseas diplomatic establishments must be made in person. It is a heavy burden for people living in areas far away from embassies and consulates. Shouldn’t the digitization of registration procedures be considered?

Applications at local governments have been available since 2018, but this has not led to an increase in the number of registrants. It is highly likely that not enough progress has been made in making the relevant information known to people moving overseas.

In some local governments, the administrative services that handle residence certificates cooperate with local election administration commissions in order to inform people performing moving-out procedures at local government offices how the overseas voting system works and how to register. Such efforts must be expanded.

There are two ways to vote overseas: casting a ballot at a diplomatic establishment or sending the necessary document to the election administration commission where a voter is registered to request a ballot, then sending it back by post.

As long as there are no prospects of introducing online voting, the government must devise ways to improve the current system’s convenience.

In the latest lower house election, the period from the lower house dissolution to the actual voting day was the shortest under the current Constitution. In addition, some ballots of overseas voters reportedly arrived at election administration commissions after the voting day due to international postal services having deteriorated amid the pandemic.

It is problematic that some votes ended up being uncounted. In the name of expediting and simplifying the process, couldn’t even requests for ballots be made with election administration commissions by allowing online procedures?

For nationals living abroad, their interest in Japanese politics and elections tends to wane, but it is the accumulation of individual votes that sets the course for the country. It is hoped overseas voters will proactively exercise their rights.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Nov. 22, 2021.