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Some constituencies were unable to complete their ballot count on Oct. 22, the day of Japan's lower house election.
Japan's Election

Calls for internet voting grow after typhoon hits Japan election

Delayed ballot counting fuels demand for modernization

TOKYO -- The chaos caused by a typhoon sweeping across Japan as the country went to the polls last Sunday has led to renewed calls for the introduction of internet voting.

The storm caused widespread disruption to the lower house election. Many voters struggled to make it to polling stations and a number of local authorities were unable to count ballots the same day.

Both experts and a younger generation of Japanese voters have expressed a desire for voting to be made easier through technology.

But, while it could undoubtedly help boost voter turnout, there are a number of hurdles that stand in the way.

"We should begin studies on internet voting right away," said Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Seiko Noda at a news conference following a cabinet meeting on Tuesday. "We must avoid a recurrence," she added in reference to the delays caused by the typhoon.

Electronic voting is already possible at local level through a system in which ballots are cast using machines installed at polling stations.

Since it was first introduced in 2002 in Niimi, a small city in Okayama Prefecture in the west of the country, 10 local government bodies have adopted the system. In many cases, the time taken to count ballots has been more than halved.

E-voting, however, is not permitted in national elections on the grounds that it would be too difficult to safeguard against abuse; there are fears, for example, that programs could be hacked and results altered.

There are also technical issues. A city assembly election in 2003 in Kani, Gifu Prefecture, was invalidated by the Supreme Court after a fault with the voting machines prevented many voters from casting their ballots.

Nevertheless, there is a growing number of voices calling for modernization of the voting process using information technology.

"Internet voting should be introduced by the upper house election in two years' time to arrest the declining turnout," said Naohiro Yashiro, a professor at Showa Women's University in Tokyo.

Currently, e-voting in local elections requires a trip to the polling station, but Yashiro believes there should be a mechanism enabling people to vote remotely.

In a report compiled in September 2016, a panel of experts set up by the internal affairs ministry referred to the potential of internet voting and stressed the need for studies into its implementation, along with efforts to gauge public support.

Estonia introduced internet voting for local elections in 2005 and national elections in 2007. But doing so in Japan presents several challenges. Identification, for example, would be a risk due to the ease with which someone could pose as another voter. 

Noda suggested the individual number cards Japan uses for social security and tax purposes could be used for internet voting, in a similar way to how Estonia uses identity cards.

Kazunori Kawamura, an associate professor at Tohoku University and member of the expert panel, argued any such system ought to be rolled out gradually, "first of all as a means of helping people who have difficulty getting to a polling station, such as the elderly or residents of remote islands," he said. "Introduction across the board would be extremely difficult," he added.

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