• Kyodo

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A high court on Tuesday ruled the July Upper House election constitutional, delivering the first such decision in a series of lawsuits on the disparity in vote values.

Dismissing the case, presiding Judge Hajime Yoshida of the Takamatsu High Court said in the ruling that the vote-value disparity of up to 3.08 times between the most and least represented constituencies “has not reached a level at which it cannot be overlooked.”

The decision was in contrast with two preceding rulings on the same issue that concluded the gap was “in a state of unconstitutionality.”

The Okayama branch of the Hiroshima High Court on Friday and the Kanazawa branch of the Nagoya High Court on Monday recognized the gap as significant but dismissed calls for invalidating the election, deeming that the government has taken steps to correct the difference.

Plaintiffs in these cases are seeking to have the courts void the outcome of the Upper House election on the grounds that the vote disparity violates the constitutional guarantee of equality under the law.

The disparity in the July 10 Upper House election had shrunken from as much as 4.77 times, seen in the last Upper House election in 2013, after the Diet acted to merge two pairs of less-populated prefectures into two constituencies to address the discrepancies.

The Takamatsu court said the traditional demarcation of electoral districts along prefectural borders has a “fair degree of reasonableness” on the grounds that such demarcations are suited to reflect the will of the people.

It acknowledged the district mergers and other changes made to narrow the vote-value gap as an “emergency measure” that was unavoidable to address the so-called state of unconstitutionality.

Tuesday’s ruling was the third decision coming out of 16 lawsuits filed by two groups of lawyers over vote weight disparity at high courts nationwide. High courts are the court of first instance for lawsuits on elections.

The Supreme Court had long accepted a vote weight disparity of more than five times for the Upper House, but its attitude has changed in recent years. The watershed came in its ruling on the 2007 election, held with a gap of 4.86 times.

The top court said then that while the election was constitutional, the electoral system needed to be reconsidered due to substantial inequality in the value of each vote.

In subsequent years, the Supreme Court began ruling that Upper House elections held even with a vote-value gap of less than five times were “in a state of unconstitutionality.”

The top court has yet to nullify an Upper House election outcome for violating the “one person, one vote” rule.

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