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Local election boards struggle to find ways to get more voters to turn out

  • October 3, 2017
  • , The Japan Times
  • English Press

Local election boards across Japan are struggling to raise voter turnout for the Oct. 22 House of Representatives election after both the last general elections, in 2012 and 2014, saw turnout slump to the lowest levels since the end of World War II.


The overall turnout in single-seat constituencies plunged to 59.32 percent in the December 2012 election, falling below the previous record low of 59.65 percent, set in 1996, and it dropped to 52.66 percent in the December 2014 poll.


Aomori Prefecture logged a voter turnout of 46.83 percent in 2014, the worst of the 47 prefectures, and 54.20 percent in 2012, the second-lowest level.


“We don’t understand the cause of the low turnouts,” said an official of the secretariat for Aomori Prefecture’s election board. “But we plan at least to increase the number of early voting stations, including at a university, and run free-of-charge shuttle buses (to and from voting stations) in mountainous areas and areas where many elderly residents live.”


Miyagi Prefecture ranked 44th in 2012 in the aftermath of the massive March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. It inched up to 42nd in 2014, but its turnout was still less than 50 percent.


“Voter turnouts have been down dramatically since the disaster,” a Miyagi election board official said, adding that local voters do not have much confidence in the political system.


Early voting stations will be set up in shopping centers in some areas, but the Miyagi official said there won’t be enough of them.


“We’re halfway to improving the voting environment,” the official said, “but we hope to achieve a turnout of over 50 percent in the upcoming poll.”


The prefecture’s gubernatorial election will also be held on the same day as the Lower House poll.


Ishikawa Prefecture saw its turnout figure plunge to 49.16 percent in the 2014 general election, down 12.76 percentage points from 2012, the steepest fall in any prefecture.


“The previous election took place in December (2014) and there was snow on the ground, which may have been a factor (behind the turnout slump),” an official from the prefecture’s election board said.


Shimane Prefecture posted the highest voter turnout among the 47 prefectures in each of the previous two Lower House elections with 65.74 percent in 2012 and 59.24 percent in 2014. A local election board official said, however, “We’re not really sure why.”


“We work with university students, including to call on people in the street to go and vote,” the Shimane official said. “But there’s no magic wand (for raising voter turnout), as turnouts may depend on factors such as the issues at stake.”


According to a survey quoted by the internal affairs ministry, 23.4 percent of respondents who did not vote in the 2014 election cited a lack of interest in the election as the reason for having abstained.


Of the abstaining voters, 18.3 percent said they had work to do, while 17.5 percent pointed to the lack of a suitable party or candidate to support.


With multiple answers allowed, 15.3 percent said the election was not expected to lead to better politics, while another 15.3 percent noted that there was no good reason to hold the election at the time.


“First, voter turnout tends to be lower under the single-seat constituency system, which involves more wasted votes,” Keio University professor Yoshiaki Kobayashi said. “Voters know that each vote carries less weight under this system.”


Kobayashi also pointed to a lack of policy debates in recent general elections, due to abrupt dissolutions of the Lower House and short official campaigns.


Meanwhile, average voter turnout among sampled constituencies came to 29.72 percent for people aged between 20 and 24, the lowest of all age groups, and 35.32 percent for those between 25 and 29, the second lowest.


The upcoming Lower House election will be the first held under the new minimum voting age of 18.

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