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The government’s refusal to accept mail-in ballots filled out on behalf of physically disabled people is not an illegal act meriting damages, but it violates their voting rights and is unconstitutional, the Tokyo District Court ruled Thursday.

The court thus rejected a lawsuit by three people seeking a total of 2.7 million yen in compensation from the government.

The suit was filed by two Tokyo residents suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, and the husband of a Tokyo woman who died during the deliberations.

Presiding Judge Takahisa Fukuda said, “The absence of a system whereby patients can exercise their voting rights constitutes an unconstitutional condition.”

But Fukuda also said the existence of such an unconstitutional condition is beyond the general understanding of Diet lawmakers and thus cannot be acknowledged as illegal under the State Redress Law.

Under the Public Offices Election Law, people with severe physical disabilities can vote by mail, but they must handwrite the name of the candidate on the ballot.

“Since I can only move my eyeballs and areas near my eyes, I cannot write with my own hand and cannot use the mail-in vote,” said one of the plaintiffs, Akira Sasagawa, 52, who depends on an artificial respirator and is bedridden under home care.

“It is impossible in reality for me to go to the polling station,” he said. “The violation of voting rights, one of the most fundamental human rights guaranteed by the Constitution, has not been rectified.”

The plaintiffs argued their voting rights were violated, among other occasions, during the 1998 House of Councilors election and the 1999 Tokyo gubernatorial poll.

The government argued that certain restrictions are attached to elections and that voting systems must be determined by the Diet. It said there were cases in which paralyzed ALS patients on respirators were taken by volunteers to polling stations to vote.

“It is a pity that the wishes of many people under home care for illnesses were not accepted,” Susumu Murakoshi, head of the plaintiffs’ legal team, said.

Murakoshi said the plaintiffs will file an appeal with the Tokyo High Court to overturn the compensation rejection but they are pleased the district court found the current system to be unconstitutional.

Their lawyers added that the details of the ruling would be sent to all Diet members to urge them to act to correct the situation.

The Diet will be held responsible if the issue is not addressed, they added.

Asked about the ruling, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda agreed that the mail-in voting system needs to be improved.

“We acknowledge the importance of securing voting opportunities (for the physically disabled),” he said. “I think the government needs to consider various steps to realize this.”

According to the Japan Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Association, there are about 6,200 ALS patients nationwide, including 2,000 to 3,000 on artificial respirators who receive care at home.

ALS is a progressive degenerative disease that attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing sufferers to eventually lose muscle control and become paralyzed.

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