Come up with ways to raise people’s interest in politics

There was a slight improvement in the voter turnout, but the fact that nearly half the nation’s voters did not cast ballots must not be overlooked. Society as a whole must consider how to encourage participation in politics.

The turnout in the latest House of Councillors election was 52.05%, up 3.25 percentage points from the previous race held three years ago.

Unified local elections are scheduled for next spring. Turnout for upper house elections held the year before unified local elections tends to be higher than usual, as a result of brisk campaigning by local assembly members.

Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was fatally shot two days before the election, and this may have prompted some people to think about exercising their right to vote.

Nevertheless, the turnout was the fourth lowest on record. After the 1989 race, upper house election turnout has never exceeded 60%. Sluggish participation could shake the foundation of democracy.

Local governments devised measures to improve the turnout. The number of common polling stations set up at commercial facilities and elsewhere tripled to 143 from the previous election. Celebrities encouraged viewers to vote on a video distribution site.

However, the number of polling stations overall decreased by about 1,000, mainly in underpopulated areas, to 46,000. Small municipalities had difficulties securing enough observers for each polling station, making such election-related work a burden to them.

Some local governments operated buses carrying ballot boxes for the elderly to cast their votes. Municipalities should come up with measures so that voters’ opportunities to cast their ballots are not limited, and the central government should support these efforts.

By prefecture, Tokushima had the lowest turnout for the second consecutive time. Turnout has been on a downward trend in Tokushima and Kochi prefectures since their constituencies were combined into one in 2016, as well as in the constituencies of Tottori and Shimane prefectures, which were also merged.

The combining of constituencies was introduced to rectify vote-value disparities, but it cannot be denied that the system is lessening people’s motivation to vote. It is important for the ruling and opposition parties to discuss the proper makeup of the election system, with a view to reducing vote-value disparities by increasing the total number of lawmakers.

According to the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, the turnout among 18- and 19-year-olds this time was 34.49%. The flow of young people away from politics needs to be stemmed.

According to a survey of young people conducted by the Association For Promoting Fair Elections, half the respondents said they believed “whether to vote is a matter of individual choice.” This seems to indicate that more young people are feeling powerless, thinking there is no point in casting a ballot.

Improving education to enhance voters awareness is necessary for high school and university students, so they can learn the mechanisms of voting and decision-making.

Some university students abstain from voting because they left their family homes without transferring their residence registrations. They can vote by absentee ballot, but the procedure is cumbersome, requiring voters to ask for mail delivery of their ballots. Could simplification of this process be considered?

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 18, 2022)