Japan to test run internet voting system to tackle low-overseas turnout

 To counter low overseas Japanese voter turnout, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications has decided to conduct a test run of an internet voting system to examine identification verification and security issues, it has been learned.

Though the system is to be used by Japanese voters overseas, domestic use is also being considered. A report compiled in August 2018 by an expert panel of the ministry, studying ways to improve the voting environment for Japanese nationals, proposed the introduction of online voting as a measure to tackle low overseas voter turnout for national elections that hovers around a mere 20%.

Seiko Noda, then minister for internal affairs and communications, said the introduction of an online voting system will “mark great progress,” and thus the ministry decided to conduct a demonstration experiment in fiscal 2019.

The test will make sure voters can access the system by scanning a “My Number Card” (Individual Number Card) from personal computers, smartphones or tablets. For security, voting information will be encoded with two layers of encryption. The first layer will be decrypted and information on the voter deleted when counting ballots, so that voters will not be identified when the second layer is decrypted to confirm who they voted for.

In regards to security measures, the demonstration experiment will be carried out on the assumption that in the actual operation, a spare server will be set up and a private cyber security system will be used. The internal affairs ministry panel assumes certain responses can be provided, but also says detailed examination is required to get to the stage of implementation of the voting system.

Though limited to local elections, electronic voting, using machines with a touch panel screens or buttons, was introduced in Japan in 2002 through special legislation. But the new system did not spread due to problems including expensive rental fees for such machines, in addition to mechanic failure that arose in Kani, Gifu Prefecture, central Japan, during the 2003 municipal assembly election resulting in the poll’s invalidation.

Internet voting was implemented in Estonia in 2005, and some 44% of all voters there cast their ballots via the system in a 2019 parliamentary election. However due to the risk of problems such as cyberattacks and power and machine failures, it is not prominent in other countries. The suspicion of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election only adds to the international pushback.

Harumichi Yuasa, professor of informatics at the Institute of Information Security, who participated in the internal affairs ministry panel meeting, explained that while online voting “serves as a measure to tackle low voter turnout among young people, it also brings significant benefits to the elderly, people with disabilities and voters in depopulated areas who find it hard to show up at polls.”

Yuasa added, “There is also the benefit of using both internet voting (and traditional voting) as measures against disasters.”


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