OSAKA – Teenage voters cast ballots as early voting began Thursday across Japan for the first national election since the minimum voting age was lowered to 18 from 20.
Chiho Tatsumi, an 18-year-old high school student, is believed to be the first teenage voter to cast a ballot for the July 10 House of Councilors election.
Tatsumi, who voted shortly after 6:30 a.m. at an early voting station in Mino, Osaka Prefecture, before going to school, told reporters, “If I got the right to vote but did not go to vote, that would not make sense,” adding she hoped her friends also participate in the voting.
Under the revised Public Offices Election Law that lowered the voting age, local authorities are allowed to open and close up to two hours before and after the official early voting hours of 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Kyodo News found that the city of Mino was the municipality where voting began earliest at 6:30 a.m.
To improve turnout, the early voting system has been in place for those unable to go to polling stations on election day due to work or other commitments. The period for early voting runs from Thursday to July 9.
About 5,299 early voting stations have been set up, about 500 more than for the previous Upper House election in 2013, the internal affairs ministry said Wednesday.
Universities such as Ryutsu Keizai University and Nagoya City University set up early voting stations on their campuses Thursday to encourage students to cast ballots.
In the voting station at one of Ryutsu Keizai University’s campuses in Ibaraki Prefecture, an 18-year-old student said he chose a candidate who he thought would help improve the lives of the poor and weak.
The student, who said his father is Nigerian and mother is Japanese, said he was thrilled to cast his ballot because he felt the weight of the occasion.
At Nagoya City University, many students went to the voting station, which was open only for one day, between classes on Thursday.
“I had wanted to cast a ballot in an election since I was in junior high school,” said Suseri Nakamura, 18. “So I did it, hoping that my vote will decide the future of Japan.”
After casting his ballot, Ayuto Uemori, 19, appeared pleased. He said he checked the campaign pledges announced by the political parties before he came to the campus polling station.
“This is a good opportunity to think about politics,” he said.
A total of 106,600,408 people were registered to vote as of Tuesday, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry said.
The figure is up 1,819,594 from the previous Upper House election due chiefly to the lower voting age.
The revised election law took effect Sunday and official campaigning started Wednesday.