Election administration officials nationwide gave themselves a pat on the back Monday for the extra two hours of voting time that apparently boosted turnout in Sunday’s Upper House election.
In line with revised election laws, voters were allowed to exercise their rights from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., two hours past the former closing time of 6 p.m. The new time frame and eased rules for absentee voting were seen as major factors behind the dramatic rise in voter turnout to 58.84 percent — about 14 percentage points higher than in the 1995 Upper House poll.
As a result of the additional hours, many polling stations saw voters and their families form lines after 6 p.m., some apparently after returning from an outing, dinner or watching the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament on television.
Kozo Shishihara, a 26-year-old taxi driver who worked until 8 a.m. Sunday morning, said that when he woke up after a nap, it was already 6 p.m. “Had it not been for the voting-hour extension, I would not have been able to cast my vote,” he said after voting at an elementary school in the huge Hikarigaoka housing complex in Tokyo’s Nerima Ward.
Officials who worked to boost awareness of the change in voting hours said their campaign was a major success. In Sapporo, Toyoshige Okada, who is self-employed, appeared with his family at a local polling station and said he was thankful for the new hours because his wife had been busy during the day.
Other voters also said that they were occupied during the daytime — some went shopping and ran other errands — and that the previous deadline of 6 p.m. was too early for them to get everything, including voting, done on a Sunday.
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