On 13 July, 2006, the Supreme Court of Japan dismissed claims from a person with mental difficulties concerning the mail-in ballot system, in which voters mail their ballots instead of going to polling stations[PDF139KB].
The system can only be used by limited categories of people, such as persons with certain physical disabilities, war wounds and illness. Persons with other disabilities, including those caused by mental problems, are not covered by the system in spite of their inability to go to polling stations. The plaintiff has argued that this reflects a legislative failure.
The plaintiff had been issued a certificate of eligibility for medical and educational care for persons with serious intellectual disabilities, due to mental developmental problems, anxiety neurosis and other symptoms. He could not go to polling stations because of anthropophobia and thus could not vote in elections.
After the abolition of the home ballot system for those who have difficulties in voting due to physical disabilities, the mail-in ballot system was introduced for persons with certain physical disabilities and with specified war wounds and illness. As a result of the amendments to the Public Office Election Law in 2003, the system was expanded to those in need of nursing care in certain cases. The Supreme Court pointed out, however, that the issue of difficulties in voting due to mental problems has rarely been on the agenda of the Diet until the plaintiff made the legal challenge.
Consequently, the Supreme Court found that the Diet had no opportunity to take up the issue of the expansion of the system to those who have difficulties in voting due to mental problems. Although the issue should be sufficiently considered in the future, continued the Supreme Court, the Diet cannot be regarded as having failed to take legislative measures for a long period without reasonable grounds in spite of the existence of clear necessities for such measures.
The concurring opinion states, on the other hand, that Article 49, paragraph 2 of the Public Office Election Law is not fully compatible with the purposes of the constitutional right to universal and equal suffrage, because it limits the scope of the mail-in ballot system to some categories of people, such as persons with certain physical disabilities, rather than generally covering those who have difficulties in walking and going out.
Before the abolition of the home ballot system in 1952, those who had extreme difficulties in walking due to illness, injuries, physical disabilities or pregnancy were allowed to vote at home. After its abolition because of abuses of the system, some categories of people, such as persons with certain physical disabilities, have been allowed to vote by mail since 1974. In the same year, the Sapporo District Court had found that the abolition of the home ballot system was a violation of the right to vote of those who could not go to polling stations due to disabilities and other reasons, and thus contrary to the principle of equality.
Source: Judgment of the First Chamber of the Supreme Court, 13 July 2006 [PDF 139KB] (Japanese)
See also: Japan Federation of Bar Associations, Opinions Calling for the Guarantee of Voting Opportunities: in response to the judgments concerning the claims for state compensation for violations of voting rights of those with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) and of those who have symptoms of social withdrawal (Japanese)