(Sankei: January 18, 2016 – Top play)
The government decided on Jan. 17 to introduce drastic changes to the Public Offices Election Law in order to increase voter turnout in national and local elections. A major feature is setting up voting stations at train stations, shopping malls, and other places where many people visit, and voters will be able to vote at any voting station inside the municipality where they live. Extension of opening hours on voting days prior to the election will also be allowed. The government is aiming at implementing these reforms in time for the House of Councillors election this summer, when the voting age will be lowered to 18 years. It plans to submit legal amendments to the Diet within this month, targeting enactment by the end of March.
Under the current law, voters can only vote at schools, community centers, and other voting places designated by the election commission of the municipality where they are registered. The legal amendment will allow voting at any voting station inside the municipality.
Furthermore, it will be possible to set up voting stations at train stations, shopping malls with big parking lots, shopping districts, and other places where many people visit. This is meant to make it more convenient for voters to cast their ballots in the course of shopping, for instance.
The bill will also widen the scope of people who can accompany voters inside voting places from the current “babies and others in unavoidable circumstances” to include children and students under 18 years old. This will not only make it easier for voters with children to cast their votes, but is also meant to encourage young people’s political participation. Municipalities will also be given the discretion to extend opening hours on voting days prior to the election, currently set at 8:30 a.m.-8:00 p.m.
Meanwhile, in anticipation of the lowering of the voting age to 18, Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito Diet members are preparing to submit amendments to the Public Offices Election Law to deal with cases where young people are unable to vote in either their former or current places of residence because they have moved to go to school or take up a job, or because of their parents’ job relocation. (Slightly abridged)