NAHA — Early voting in the governor race here is surging as rumors swirl online that employers are pressuring workers to vote for certain candidates and provide photographic evidence of their choices at the ballot box.
Some Internet users have posted allegations of such interference, including pictures, prompting alarmed lawyers in Okinawa Prefecture to call on the prefectural election administration committee to impose a ban on taking photographs inside polling stations.
“It is a grave situation violating freedom of voting and ballot secrecy,” one of the lawyers said.
The committee on Sept. 20 informed municipal committees that they may intervene to stop voters photographing their ballots with smartphones and other devices if such actions are thought to cause trouble.
No clear provisions exist concerning voters taking images of their own ballots under the Public Offices Election Law, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.
Hiroshi Kamiwaki, professor of constitutional law at Kobe Gakuin University, warned that directing voters to take pictures of their ballots “could breach ballot secrecy.”
“If voters are asked to report to their companies or organizations (about who they voted for), it could amount to undermining freedom of voting by forcing them to vote (for particular candidates),” he said.
The number of early votes cast on Sept. 14-16 after official campaigning for the gubernatorial election kicked off on Sept. 13 stood at 20,889, according to the prefectural election administration committee.
That is about double the number cast in the first three days of the previous governor poll in 2014.
In the prefectural capital of Naha, the number was roughly 3.5 times the previous total. In the city of Okinawa, the second largest municipality in the prefecture, it was approximately four times that of four years ago.
Although they are sharply divided over their positions on the long-running relocation of a U.S. military base issue, the camps of candidates Atsushi Sakima and Denny Tamaki have in common the desire to pressure their supporters to vote early before they can change their minds ahead of the Sept. 30 election day.
The Sakima side, endorsed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, Komeito, has repeated calls for his supporters to vote early.
The strategy is to repeat the victory in the Nago mayoral election in February, in which the candidate backed by the same two parties won. Early votes accounted for 60 percent of the overall ballots cast then.
A member of the Okinawa prefectural assembly from Komeito underlined the importance of voting early.
“Some voters may have second thoughts and opt out of voting on election day,” the assembly member said. “Voting early is the best way to ensure they do vote.”
Tamaki’s camp also urged voters on Sept. 20 not to wait until election day. His supporters are concerned that the ruling coalition may succeed in wooing undecided voters to its bloc by sending prominent politicians from Tokyo, such as Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and Shinjiro Koizumi of the LDP.
(This article was written by Eishi Kado and Kei Yoshida.)