• Kyodo

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Japan’s first experience with electronic voting did not go as smoothly as planned Sunday — some voters encountered system-related problems in the mayoral and city assembly poll in Niimi, Okayama Prefecture, local election administration commission officials said.

Voting started in from 7 a.m. at 43 stations, but about 15 voters at a polling station in northeastern Niimi were not able to receive voting cards due to errors in the startup procedure of the machines, they said.

The voters were forced to wait about 40 minutes before they were able to make their choices on the machines featuring touch-type panels, the officials added.

At another polling station in the central part of the city, one voting machine failed to function and was not able to register voting cards from around 8:30 a.m. It was replaced with a spare machine, they said.

The cause of the failure is unknown, but the results of the votes cast, stored in a small memory card in the machine, were not affected, according to the officials.

In the electronic system, voters insert voting cards they receive at the stations and make their choices for mayor and city assembly members by touching the screens of the machines.

Voting was to end at 8 p.m. and the results of the electronic voting were likely to be made available after around 20 minutes of computer calculation, notably quicker than conventional elections using paper ballots.

The entire process of ballot counting, including handwritten absentee ballots, is expected to be completed in an hour and a half, the officials said.

For the mayoral election, incumbent Masao Ishigaki, 61, and rookie Kiyoshi Kisaka, 51, are competing for the post. Ishigaki, who is seeking his third four-year term, is backed by the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, while Kisaka is backed by the Japanese Communist Party.

Winners of the mayoral election and city assembly were likely to be confirmed by 10 p.m.

Most voters completed voting smoothly, but some were confused by the new system, forgetting to retrieve their voting cards or putting the cards in incorrect places, they added.

Shinichi Sugimoto, a 67-year-old worker at a construction firm, said that he came to his polling station around 5 a.m and waited for two hours before voting.

“I wanted to be the first voter here . . . because this is the first electronic voting in Japan,” he told reporters with excitement.

However, some other voters expressed concerns over possible information leaks.

“I hope nobody will get to know for whom I have voted . . . I don’t know how secure it is,” said a 37-year-old corporate worker.

Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications Minister Toranosuke Katayama held a news conference in the city and stressed his optimism about the introduction of electronic voting in national elections.

“I think we should expand electronic voting as we are in the information technology age. Of course, we are aiming for national elections,” said Katayama, who visited the city to observe the voting.

Noting that the current law does not allow absentee voters to cast electronic votes and that polling stations and ballot counting sites are not connected online, Katayama indicated he will take measures to review the law to make electronic voting more effective.

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