1,701 absentee ballots in House election treated as abstained

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1,701 absentee ballots in House election treated as abstained

The FUKUOKA -- At least 1,701 absentee ballots in the House of Representatives election were treated as abstained after they failed to reach local governments where the people were registered to vote by the mail-in ballot deadline, according to the Mainichi Shimbun.

In Japanese elections, an absentee ballot is sent to the election administration commission of the local government where the voter is registered. After the election is over, a commission official casts a ballot on behalf of the voter. The day before the election, local governments set their absentee voting deadline at 8 p.m. Any ballots arriving after the deadline are considered null, meaning that they are treated as abstained.

In June, the Mainichi Shimbun asked all 47 prefectural governments about absentee ballots that did not arrive on time in the Oct. 31, 2021 lower house election, and found that a total of 1,701 ballots did not meet the deadline in 42 prefectures including Tokyo. The largest number of absentee ballots going null was found in Kanagawa Prefecture at 187, followed by Ibaraki Prefecture's 130 and Chiba Prefecture's 123. Hyogo and Shimane prefectures answered that no such case was confirmed, while Hokkaido, Kyoto and Fukuoka prefectures did not respond for reasons including that they were still collecting data.

The Fukushima Prefecture, which has seen more absentee voters after the March 2011 nuclear disaster due to many residents evacuating from their hometowns, released detailed information. It turned out that 120 ballots in 20 municipalities did not meet the voting deadline. Almost all absentee ballots were cast outside the prefecture, and of these five from Hokkaido, Gunma and Mie prefectures were cast two days before the deadline, only to not arrive on time. The other municipal governments within the prefecture had received the day before the deadline, and were counted as invalid. 32 absentee ballots were treated as abstaining in the prefectural town of Namie, where many residents are still unable to return after the nuclear meltdown. A Namie official told the Mainichi Shimbun, "It's unfortunate that people cast their ballots for their hometown." Japan Post Co.'s Letter Pack service is often used to send out absentee ballots, as Letter Packs are treated as express mail and delivered even on weekends. It will be difficult for letter packs to arrive at their destinations the day after they're posted, depending on delivery destinations and the time they're assigned at post offices. A Japan Post PR representative said that Mail received at 5 p.m. and later, even Letter Packs, might not be delivered the following day. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications has stopped short of making any operational changes to improve the situation for the July 10 House of Councillors election whose official campaign period kicked off on June 22, but it only commented: We're working to make sure that no person would miss their opportunity to exercise their right to vote. Political science professor and Kumamoto University deputy director Hironori Ito said it was a problem that a ballot cast can go to waste. He stated that the postal service is the main reason that the current absentee voting system takes time. The central and local governments should consider measures to speed up the process by introducing information and communication technologies and other means.