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Students Living Alone for the First Time and Local Elections

2019.05.08




Yuzo Nakanishi
Professor Emeritus, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Administrative law, public services law, etc.

This is a message of caution for students who have left home to live alone in Tokyo or in the neighboring prefectures to pursue higher education.

On June 19, 2016, the voting age was lowered to 18. This means that university freshmen now have the right to vote. However, in order to exercise your right, your name needs to be on the voter registration list prepared by the municipality in which you reside. In order to have your name on the voter registration list, you will need to have an address in that municipality for three months or longer. In other words, your name needs to be listed on the basic resident register of your municipality, and you need a certificate of residence (as per the Public Offices Election Act, Article 21, paragraph 1, the so-called three-month residence requirement). If you are simply living in the municipality without being listed on its basic resident register (meaning you don't have a certificate of residence), your name will not be registered on the voter registration list.

Furthermore, until June 18, 2016, even with the right to vote, for reasons related to the standard registration date for the voter registration list (usually the first day of March, June, September and December, the registration date for an election/a fixed date related to the election date determined by the municipal Committee for Election Administration) (Article 22), your name may not have been registered to the list (if three months have not passed since the day you moved your address from your previous municipality to your current municipality and had your name added to the basic resident register), thereby leaving you unable to vote. (This situation is called "blank voting rights.") This situation would have been an issue regardless of the lowering of the voting age. However, when the voting age was lowered to 18, the number of people affected by this issue (the number of people who are unable to exercise their right to vote) is thought to have increased. That number is said to have reached 70,000 people. This is because after graduating from high school, 18-year-olds have a high likelihood of leaving their parents' homes and beginning to live alone in other prefectures and municipalities in order to pursue higher education or to find employment.

If you are a citizen 18 years old or older who have changed your address to one outside of your previous municipality and were living in the municipality of your previous address for over three months, and if four months have not passed since the day you renounced your address in that municipality (the day you changed your certificate of residence to another municipality), the government now allows your name to be on the voter registration list of the municipality of your previous address (Article 21, paragraph 2), and you are now able to vote in that municipality (as a solution to the issue of "blank voting rights"). However, this system applies only to national elections. For local elections, you will only be able to vote in elections for the governor and the local assembly of a prefecture if you have changed your address to another municipality in the same prefecture (Article 9, paragraph 3). In this case, in order to vote in the municipality of your previous address, you will need to present proof of residence (Enforcement Order, Article 34, paragraph 2) indicating that you continue to reside within the prefecture (Article 44, paragraph 3). This system for local elections is used because, according to the Constitution, elections for the assemblies and the heads of local public bodies are carried out by residents of the local public body (Article 93, paragraph 2), specifically those who have had an address within that municipality for three months or longer (Article 9, paragraph 2). Therefore, if you have changed your certificate of residence from a prefecture with upcoming local elections to Tokyo or a neighboring prefecture at the end of the previous year or the beginning of the current year, you will be unable to vote in elections for the governor or prefectural assembly of the prefecture of your previous address. Additionally, you will not be able to vote in elections for the mayor or municipal assembly of the municipality of your previous address. With regard to the local elections of Tokyo or the neighboring prefecture to which you changed your certificate of residence, you will be able to vote once your name is registered to the voter registration list of the municipality of your current certificate of residence. Considering your voting registration is managed by the municipal Committee for Election Administration of your previous municipality for four months after renouncing the address in your previous municipality, some believe this system to be unreasonable, but these limitations are simply a result of the nature of voting rights in local elections as described above.

When changing your address, the Residential Basic Book Act requires you to change your certificate of residence (according to Articles 22 and 23 of the Act). For those who have changed their certificate of residence to an address in Tokyo or a neighboring prefecture in order to pursue higher education, it is important to understand the system for exercising your right to vote in local elections.

Additionally, if you have not changed your certificate of residence to reflect your current address, your polling place entry ticket may be sent to your previous address (your parents' address). Keep in mind that a ballot is required in order for you to vote (Article 44), and a ballot is given to you in exchange for your entry ticket after confirming that your name is on the registry (Enforcement Order, Article 35). You will not be able to vote at the location of your current address automatically. From your current address, there is a way to vote using an absentee ballot (Article 49), but a certain procedure is required (Enforcement Order, Articles 50, 52, and 53). However, in this case, due to the balance between the basic nature of voting rights in local elections and the legal handling of those rights when changing addresses as described above, there is a possibility that the Committee for Election Administration of your previous municipality will be unable to seamlessly process the use of the absentee ballot system. Depending on the municipality, your current address may have been verified to no longer be your parents' address, and your name may have been removed from the voter registration list, although I believe the legality of this to be questionable. If your address is listed as your parents' address in Tokyo or the neighboring prefectures, you will, of course, be able to vote from your parents' hometown.
Yuzo Nakanishi
Professor Emeritus, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Administrative law, public services law, etc.

Yuzo Nakanishi was born in Tokyo in 1942.
1965: Graduated from the Faculty of Law, Chuo University
1967: Completed master's degree at Chuo Law School, Chuo University (master's degree)
1967: Research Associate, Faculty of Law, Chuo University (administrative law)
1971: Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, Chuo University
1978: Professor, Faculty of Law, Chuo University
2014: Emeritus Professor, Chuo University

From his days as a research associate at Chuo University, Nakanishi has specialized in research surrounding public services law, as well as research and education for administrative law in general.
Major publications include Gyoseiho 1 (Administrative Law 1) (Chudai Tsukyo, 2002) and Komuin no Shurui (Types of Civil Servants) (Yuhikaku, 1985).