The Tokyo District Court on March 14 declared unconstitutional a provision in the Public Offices Election Law that takes away the right to vote from adults who have had guardians chosen for them.
It thus affirmed the right to vote for Ms. Takumi Nagoya, a 50-year-old woman from Ushiku, Ibaraki Prefecture, who has Down’s syndrome and midlevel intellectual disabilities. Instead of appealing the ruling to a higher court, the government should revise the law in accordance with the ruling.
The adult guardianship system was introduced in 2000, mainly to assist people who have dementia or intellectual disabilities with the management of their property.
In February 2007, Ms. Nagoya’s father, Mr. Seikichi Nagoya, was chosen as her guardian by a family court. The guardian has the power to sign contracts on behalf of the ward or to nullify contracts that the ward has signed but which the guardian considers disadvantageous to him or her.
Ms. Nagoya used to vote in both local and national elections. But after her father became her guardian, she no longer received voter’s certificates because, under the current guardianship system, people who become wards are stripped of the right to vote.
The father filed a lawsuit with the court in February 2011, alleging that depriving her of the right to vote is unconstitutional and demanding that the court affirm that she has that right. In the ruling, the court said that, in principle, the government is not allowed to curb the right to vote because the right is guaranteed by the Constitution.
The court added that not all wards lack the mental capacity to vote; therefore, such people should not be uniformly deprived of that right.
Noting that even a person with disabilities is a “citizen with sovereignties over the Japanese state” and that the right to vote is the basis of democracy, the ruling said that only in an “extremely exceptional case,” where it is impossible to ensure the fairness of an election, can people be stripped of their voting rights.
In its ruling, the court also pointed out that people are assigned guardians only when it is thought that they are unable to properly manage their assets, and that some of these people still possess sufficient intellectual ability to vote.
Refuting an argument by the state (the defendant in the lawsuit), the court also said that it is hard to conceive of the possibility of voting irregularities involving intellectually disabled people happening so frequently as to damage the fairness of an election.
The government and the Diet should promptly review and revise the Public Offices Election Law to ensure that all citizens can exercise their constitutional right to vote.