More courts stop shy of annulling July poll

Kyodo

Two high courts ruled Monday that the disparity in the weight of votes in July’s House of Councilors election was “in a state of unconstitutionality,” but dismissed the plaintiffs’ demand that poll results from a combined seven constituencies be nullified.

The plaintiffs, a group of lawyers, claim that vote-value gaps of up to 4.77-fold in the July 21 Upper House election violate the equal-protection clause of the Constitution, meaning the election should be invalidated.

The presiding judge, Hiroshi Yamashita of the Takamatsu High Court, recognized that there was “excessive inequality” in the weight of votes at the time of the election that raised the question of unconstitutionality.

However, Yamashita said that the vote-value gap did not clearly violate the Constitution because the failure by lawmakers to rectify the allocation of Upper House seats as stipulated in the election law did not go beyond the discretionary powers of the Diet.

The disparity in number of eligible voters per Upper House councilor reached as high as 4.77-fold between Hokkaido, which has the most voters, and Tottori, which has the fewest. That translates into a vote value ratio of 1-to-0.21 between the two constituencies.

In the seven constituencies covered by the two lawsuits — Toyama, Ishikawa, Fukui, Tokushima, Kagawa, Ehime and Kochi prefectures — the gaps in voting weights ranged from 1.30- to 2.45-fold, compared with the Tottori district.

The election boards of the prefectures defended the disparity, saying it had narrowed from the 2010 Upper House election and that the Diet did not have enough time to introduce reforms.

In late November, the Hiroshima High Court’s Okayama branch ruled that the results of the Upper House election in the Okayama Prefecture constituency should be invalidated due to an unconstitutional gap in the weight of votes.

Earlier in December, the high courts in Hiroshima and Sapporo ruled the disparity was “in a state of unconstitutionality” but stopped short of declaring the election outcome invalid.

Rulings on the nine remaining lawsuits are scheduled to be handed down by the end of the year.

In October last year, the Supreme Court ruled the maximum fivefold disparity in the weight of votes in the 2010 Upper House election was “in a state of unconstitutionality” and called on the legislature to carry out drastic reforms.

However, the vote-value gap only fell slightly, to 4.77-fold in the July contest, as a result of minor amendments to the election law in November last year.

The revised election law states that deliberations to fundamentally reform the electoral system should be concluded before the next Upper House election in 2016.