Campaigning officially began Sunday for an election that will feature the first-ever electronic voting in Japan. The June 23 elections will be held in Niimi, Okayama Prefecture.

Two mayoral candidates and 22 candidates for the 18 seats in the city assembly registered their candidacies.

Voters will use machines with a touch-panel screen to cast their ballots. The results will be announced after computerized counting of the votes. Those casting absentee ballots will write in the names of the candidates, as in the past.

With the introduction of e-voting, ballot-counting time will be reduced by only about 20 minutes. Other advantages include a reduced workload for vote counters and elimination of the risk of questionable ballots.

Other municipalities that are considering introduction of an e-voting system will closely watch the process at Niimi for possible machine troubles or confusion among voters.

Last November a law was enacted paving the way for the use of computer terminals at polling stations in local elections. In March, the municipal assembly of Niimi approved a city-submitted ordinance for the introduction of e-voting.

The city had initially planned to purchase the e-voting machines. Upon requests from the public management ministry, however, it decided to rent the whole system. As a result, the cost was kept to 2.5 million yen for the rental of 154 voting terminals and two ballot-counting machines.

In the mayoral race, the 61-year-old incumbent Masao Ishigaki is being challenged by Kiyoshi Kisaka, 51, who is backed by the Japanese Communist Party. Ishigaki is supported by the Liberal Democratic Party and the Democratic Party of Japan.

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