Murata,T.,Yada,A.,and Sakajiri,M.
Proceedings of the International Conference for Universal Design in Japan 2002 pp.646-654



*1 Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, The University of Tokyo
*2 National Institute of Vocational Rehabilitation
*3 Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, The University of Tokyo


In Japan, the new law came into effect in February 2002 and made it possible, as a special case, for local governments to implement voting with electronic voting device. Despite high expectations regarding its use since everyone uses the same voting device, there has been some concern expressed that there are some people, especially visually impaired people, who may find it inaccessible.
The first vote by e-voting in Japan was implemented in Niimi City in June 2002. E-voting was supported by 96% of the voters. This success owes much to the voting system developed through the evaluations of various kinds of people including people who have disabilities.
However, the same success is not necessarily expected in e-voting if it is widely and commonly used. There are no provisions in the law regarding the needs of those various people such as people who have disabilities.
The law does not make any provisions regarding the equipment conditions of the electronic voting device with consideration of accessibility for people who have disabilities. The only provisions made are for the current Braille voting, proxy voting, and support for using the electronic voting device. People who have disabilities are left out not guaranteed for voting by this new information technology.


e-voting; election; accessibility


The e-voting system was implemented in Japan for the first time when the election of the mayor and the city assembly members took place in Niimi City, Okayama Prefecture on June 23, 2002. The written voting method had been used exclusively for more than 100 years, since the establishment of the modern election system in Japan. The adoption of the e-voting system in this city election ushered in the IT era in elections.
The e-voting in Niimi City was supported by many voters. The favorable comments, “It is very simple,” and “It is simpler than expected” were expressed by 96% of them according to exit polls (The Sanyo Shinbun, 2002).
Even elderly people, who tend to be viewed as finding it difficult to use electronic devices, also evaluated it highly. Approximately 90% of people who are over sixty and notably 100% of the people in their seventies responded that they, “prefer e-voting” when asked, “Which do you prefer?” (The Sanyo Shinbun, 2002).
Concern about the “digital divide” now seems to be swept away. It is mentioned that other local and national governments will adopt the e-voting method in their local and national elections thanks to the good timing of this success. Yet, there are many issues that need to be resolved.
This paper reports the first e-voting process in Japan and its adopted system as it took place in Niimi City. It also examines the universal design in Japanese election under the circumstance of rapid development of IT and refers to the importance of the re-adjustment of the legal system to secure accessibility for people who have disabilities.


(1) Summary and Problems Contained in the Current Method of Election for Public Office

First of all, the current method of election in Japan is examined as follows.
The principle of the election law (Public Office Election Law) in Japan is that voting in an election entails writing the name of the candidate (or of the party) in one’s own hand (including Braille) in the polling station on election day.
The following is regarded as an exception; voting by marking on a prepared candidate list with something like a circle (used only in local elections), proxy voting for those who cannot write the name of a candidate due to physical disability or illiteracy, and absentee voting for those who cannot vote on election day but vote ahead due to their business, illness, or physical disability (mail-in voting is permitted especially for the people who have severe physical disabilities) etc.
The current system has some problems. Although Braille voting can be used for anyone who is visually impaired, proxy voting has been used as the only way for voters who lost their sight during the course of life and do not have Braille ability. Extremely few people use Braille voting in the election district. Visually impaired people often mention that they feel insecure about the violation of confidentiality due to their special voting situation.
Mail-in voting is available only for some people with severe physical disabilities. It cannot be used
by other disabled people or bedridden elderly people. Braille voting cannot be used, either.

(2) Summary of the Special Law of the Electronic Voting

“Law regarding special cases for the voting method using the electromagnetic recording voting device for election of the members of the assemblies and the chief executive officers of local public entities” passed on November 30, 2001. It is called “the Special Law of Electronic Voting.”
It was officially announced on December 7 and came in effect on February 1, 2002.
This law provides e-voting in local elections as a special case in Public Office Election Law, which provides elections for Members of the Diet, and the members of the assemblies and the chief executive officers of local governments (local elections).
This special law provides e-voting as “voting by the electromagnetic recording voting device”. The electromagnetic recording voting device is defined thus: “Said device is one operated by a voter to vote from among a given number of candidates for a given public office. Said machine is that which
records a voter’s selected a candidate on the electromagnetic recording medium as the electromagnetic
This law only covers the ordinary case of voting in a polling station on election day. It does not cover special cases such as Braille voting, absentee voting and mail-in voting.
This law provides the proxy voting by electronic voting device for the physically disabled and illiterate voters who cannot e-vote by themselves and supporting in the operation of the device for voters who have trouble with e-voting.
Said support for operation consists of advising them on how to operate it or to give assistance to them, or give other necessary support to them for e-voting (except recording such a voters’ selected a candidate on the electronic recording medium by operating the electronic voting device).

(3) The Process of the Adoption of E-voting in Niimi City

Niimi City is a small city of approximately 25000 people surrounded by the Chugoku Mountains in western Honshu. The city was positive in adopting e-voting even before the Special Law of Electronic Voting was passed. The city sent to the Japanese government and Okayama Prefecture, a proposal to found an e-voting system in February 2001. The city also set up a study group on the adoption of the e-voting aiming to research it independently and frequently.
The following month, March 2002, when the special law came into effect, the city assembly voted on a city regulation concerning voting by electromagnetic recording voting device.
About the display of names of candidates, this city regulation provides that it should be fair and provides for the consideration for the easy and accurate recognition of letters by voters, as well as the indication with voice.
The election for the mayor and assembly members by e-voting was held on June 23, 2002.


(1) Outline of the Electronic Voting Device (Touch-Panel Operation, Key Operation with Voice Guidance)

The following is the procedural order of e-voting in the polling station.

1. Issuing a voting card
Upon arrival, each voter is identified on the voter registration list and an individualized voting card is issued.

2. Voting
The voting system permits to operate as the voter inserts the voting card. The voter operates the devices to select a candidate. The voting data is recorded on the recording medium. Then the voting card automatically comes out.

3. Collecting the voting card
After voting, the used voting card is returned to a clerk in charge. Cards can be reused for voting after the issuing process by the voting card issuing machine. As the voting card is secured by IC card, it can be protected from rigged voting by duplication.

The electronic voting device (VT25: manufactured by the Association of Electronic Voting System) is shown in Figure 1. It has 15-inch liquid crystal touch panel, which has both functions of display and selection (key-in) like cash dispensers used in banks.
Sighted voters select a candidate using a touch pen by pressing their selected candidate’s name from the list of candidates seen on the display panel. People who are visually impaired select a candidate by operating the convex symbol keypad for the electronic voting device as they follow voice guidance through a head-set.
It is 350mm wide, 350mm deep. Its front part is 102mm high. Its rear part is 180mm high (except for the pole) It weighs approximately 8.8kg.
The convex symbol keypad for vision-impaired people is shown in Figure 2. The key with the triangle mark on the left of the top line in Figure 2 is pressed for cancel and re-start for voting.
The key on the right of the top line is not to be used. The key with the left arrow direction on the left of the middle line is for “Back” operation. The key on the right of the middle line is for “Forward” operation. The key on the bottom left indicates “No.” The key on the bottom right indicates “Yes.” Each key is also labelled in Braille or by tactile sign (in the middle line).

Fig 1. The electronic voting device VT25 (Photo distributed by EVS)
(left) Fig 2. The convex symbol keypad for vision-impaired people (Photo distributed by EVS)
(right) Fig 3. a blind person operates the convex symbol keypad (Photo Distributed by EVS)

Each key has a mark on it to identify its mark by tactile sign as well. The above 5 keys are used for voting following voice guidance.
To ensure confidentiality while the people who are visually impaired is voting, nothing is shown on the liquid crystal panel.
Figure 3 shows the scene when an individual who is visually impaired operates the convex symbol keypad as they follow voice guidance through the head-set.

(2) The Process of the Electronic Voting Device Development and the Road to Making it Barrierfree

The e-voting study conference was formed in the private sector (presently The Association of Electronic Voting System) in April 1989. “The adoption of the electronic voting device” was proposed to the Ministry of Home Affairs in those days in March 1992. The first test device for touch panel for e-voting was demonstrated in public in September 1992 (EVS, 2002). The test device was demonstrated for improvement through mock voting and public experience in various places inside and outside of Japan and the system was thus improved.
Full consideration of the accessibility for the people with disabilities started to be taken in 1999. People with visually impaired participated in mock voting on the general election of the members of the Representatives in the Diet when placed side by side with voting for the election of the Prefectural Assembly members in Kawaguchi City, Saitama Prefecture in April 1999. They proposed the voice guidance and the button-pressing operation method (Fukui, 1999).
However, the improved device displayed as a demonstration model in the Diet Members’ Office Building was “far behind practical usability” (Hori & Fukui, 2002).

Table 1: The Process of the Electronic Voting Device Development
Date Event
1989.4 E-voting study conference (private) established
1992.3 Proposal of the adoption of the e-voting device to the Ministry of Home Affairs
1992.9 First public demonstration of the touch panel device for e-voting
1999.4 First participation of the people with visually impaired in mock voting
2000.9 The federation of the members of the Diet, passed the resolutions for actualizing barrier free voting
2000.12- Empirical test of Barrier-free voting development started
2001.11.30 the Special Law of Electronic Voting passed
2002.2.1 the Special Law of Electronic Voting came in effect
2002.6.23 First E-voting in Japan(Niimi city)

The machine, which guided users by Braille seals on the touch panel, had a high risk of misuse by totally blind people who depend on tactile senses. The voters could not control the speed of voice naming of the candidates from the device. The panel was to be pressed simultaneously with the voice indication.
There was some concern that if the timing is missed, the wrong candidate’s name might be selected. The visually impaired Member of the Diet, who participated in an experimental meeting called an opinion exchanges meeting between the people who tried to improve the device and the people with visually impaired who participated in the test device demonstration (Hori & Fukui, 2002). This exchange meeting was held several times.
In September, 2000, “Study Group on E-voting and Vote Counting System”, which is the one of the federation of the members of the Diet, passed the resolutions “For actualizing barrier free voting,” and “For adopting an e-voting test on a local election,” thus leading the development of the electronic voting device to proceed with the emphasis of barrier-free voting.

(3) The Situation of Achievements on the Technical Aspect in Response to Accessibility

The consortium with NTT DATA Corporation as the primary member carried out the empirical test of “Barrier-free voting development.” It was done as part of the enterprise by the government revised budget for fiscal year 2000.
This test covered the following areas of development: Interface with voice guidance and keyoperation for people with visually impaired as mentioned before, interface by the magnified screen for people with low vision, interface by Braille display for people who are deafblind (the people who have hearing impaired and visually impaired), interface by tactile display for deafblind people who do not use Braille, and interface by foot-switch or special switch for people who have upper limb disorder. The test was carried out in 46 places of organizations of people with visually impaired, schools for blind and facilities for people with physical disabilities across the country.
The interface for people who have low vision consists of a screen with magnified letters. Visually impaired people who are hearing can make use of convex symbol keypad with voice guidance. This interface for low vision, therefore, is not necessarily essential, but can be convenient.
The interface by the Braille display or the tactile display is very important for deafblind people who cannot hear the voice guidance and identify the visual display.
Interface by the tactile display showing the letters is needed for the deafblind people who do not use Braille.
As interface by the Braille display uses the Braille display available in a store, it corresponds to the current technology, which may need some improvements.
Interface by the tactile display showing the letters refers to the study by Sakajiri group (Sakajiri, 2000). Figure 4 shows the tactile display with alphabet letters, A, B, C, D, indicated on it. It is on the basis of the one Sakajiri group developed.
The tactile display for electronic voting device has the four tactile displays SC-5 in line. It is manufactured by KGS Inc. The total 256 tactile pins in 16 vertical line and 16 horizontal line are arranged in the space of 50mm by 50mm.
The tactile display used for the empirical test of the e-voting device also has four SC-5 displays as shown in Figure 4. The problem in interface using such a tactile display is the restrictions of the degree of resolution and the number of display letters. SC-5’s degree of resolution is 3mm between pins. As it is also interface for deafblind people who cannot read Braille, it is expected that the displayable letters at the maximum are only four letters on the tactile display of Figure 4.

Fig 4. The tactile display indicates A,B,C and D.

There is certainly an idea of enlarging the tactile display space. Yet, it would not be permissible in cost as SC-5 is expensive in price. Furthermore, the font displayed on the tactile display is required for easy tactile reading.
Sakajiri group is proceeding with a further study on the font for the tactile display as shown in Figure 4. It is expected that their improvements in the e-voting system will be adopted in the future. A foot-switch for people who have upper limb disorder is interface complimented by the functional lower part of the body.
The special switch adopts interface used for communication and personal computer operated by one or a small number of switches
However, these equipments were, unfortunately, not used for the election in Niimi City except the voice guidance and the convex symbol keypad.


(1) Achievements of the System and its Analysis

The advantage of e-voting is, in a word, its freedom from writing. Voting with touch pen is easy for elderly people who feel writing is troublesome or have difficulty writing. There is no concern with disputed ballots and invalid ballots due to wrong or illegible writing.
A visually impaired elderly person who did e-voting on the election in Niimi City made the following comment. As he lost sight when he was aging, he could not learn Braille. He practiced writing the candidate’s name with pen many times for voting. But he was always worried whether his ballot might be invalid due to wrong or illegible writing.
He said that he felt secure for this e-voting as he could check the candidate’s name with the voice guidance and the keypad for the people who are visually impaired. It can be said that e-voting increased the number of the voters who could vote by themselves. For example, physically disabled people who had only done proxy voting could vote by themselves (Sato, 2002).
There are two causes for this e-voting success in the Niimi City election. One is that the adopted electronic voting device took the elderly and disabled people into consideration as a system. EVS (The Association of Electronic Voting System) developed this electronic voting device with the clear statement of being barrier-free as their goal.
People with visually impaired steadily encouraged the developers to improve the e-voting device. The developers listened carefully to the problem pointed out by various users and utilized them to make one improvement after another. Due to the efforts of both the developers and users, the usercentered voting device was put into practical use.
Generally speaking, the adoption of new information technology makes another potentially dangerous step into the new digital divide, because new technology development has the tendency to be designed with the focus on young and middle aged able-bodied people as its standard. As a result, the barriers for the elderly and disabled people have been pointed out just before the start or after the practical or widespread use. Then something is developed to decrease the barrier. This is the typical conventional “follow-up” repeated pattern to overcome a barrier problem that results in waste. It is important to take special note that this first e-voting development in Japan did not follow the typical conventional “follow-up” pattern.
The other is the careful preparation on the part of Niimi City. The City often demonstrated the evoting device in public through mock voting to familiarize people with it for this election.
Altogether over 12,000 people experienced this City’s mock voting (Niimi City Election Administration Committee, 2002). Exit polls reported that 44% of the voters experienced it in advance of the election (Iwasaki, 2002).
This result shows that many of the city people including the elderly people became familiar with the e-voting device and swept away people’s consciousness of electronic voting device as difficult to use, thus leading to smooth voting on the election day. .
However, it is regrettable that the city public information explained only about the touch panel interface of the electronic voting device. It did not explain about the interface with the voice guidance and the convex symbol keypad for people who are visually impaired. People who are visually impaired were not aware of such interface until one of their families asked questions in the public orientation meeting. So there may be the possibility that some visually impaired people gave up on voting this time due to lack of information.


(1) Technical issues

Visually impaired people, who cannot read the screen, vote by following the voice guidance from the electronic voting device and using the keypad. Voting is completed with single press of Enter key, that differs from the conventional method of writing the name of a candidate on the ballot and putting it into the ballot box.
Visually impaired people, especially those who lost their sight during the course of life, may press the Enter key unconsciously, thus making irreversible mistakes as they go over the keys for operation. Some of them commented that they were worried that they might have made such a mistake for they knew the Enter key in the keypad was laid out on front right side. It is quite easy to touch by mistake.
The exit polls on the above reported that over 17% of the voters gave a similar response (Iwasaki, 2002). It can be thought as the measure against it that interface will be modified with the relocation of the entering and confirmation keys to touch or press down for voting (Tokyo Metropolitan Study Group on E-voting System Examination, 2002).
The major issue on the electronic voting device terminal for the people who are visually impaired is how to design the interface for the selection of ten or hundreds of candidates in a general election for metropolitan areas and the general election of members of the House of the Councillors by a proportional representation system to be expected in future.
It is required to be both accessible to the screen display and fairness of the candidates’ listing. The more the number of names of candidates there are displayed on the screen, the smaller the letters that are displayed, thus lowering the accessibility for the visually impaired people.
However, the use of larger letters makes it impossible to display many names of candidates on one screen. Installment of user interface like paging or scrolling system leads to complex operation. This also creates a sense of unfairness among candidates whose names are displayed on the following pages.
There are some problems with the voice indication for selecting more numbers of the names of the candidates. The current voice indication method is a cursor control key that must be frequently pressed until the names of the candidates of their choice are read aloud.
Even in the election of Niimi City Assembly members with 22 candidates, it was mentioned that this method is troublesome. The following proposal has been made (Tokyo Metropolitan E-voting System Study Group, 2002,) “The method of voting by selecting the name of the candidate as the screen is developed with the selection of the sound of the initial letter of a candidate’s name (each line or Japanese syllabary.)” Yet, there is the concern that the voters who have not yet decided on the candidate of their choice cannot grasp who is in the candidate list.
This is a serious problem in the current situation where there is no official guarantee of public information communication written in Braille and magnified letters. The efficient and fair method of visual display or voice indication for selecting the candidate is expected to be improved.

(2) Some Issues on the Legal System

The Special Law of Electronic Voting simply provides by the principle: “In light of the development of the information society, fair and prompt administration in election is to be secured and the process of voting count is to be made efficient and prompt.” It does not seem to take into consideration the philosophy; “The convenience of all voters including the elderly and disabled people is to be enhanced” (Tanaka, et al, 2002). Neither is consideration of barrier free for the electronic voting device equipment conditions articulated.
Therefore, there is danger that local governments may think lightly of accessibility for all voters including the elderly and disabled people as they adopt e-voting in the future to think more of the efficiency and prompt administration.
If the system of poor accessibility were adopted, success like that of Niimi City would not be expected. There is even the concern about the violation of the rights of voters, especially of disabled people. It should be articulated and included in the special law that the convenience of all voters including the elderly and disabled people is to be enhanced.
Niimi City provides the screen display and the voice indication with consideration of people who are disabled in its regulations (Niimi City, 2002). It is important for the voters / the voters with disabilities to play an active role in making an accessible system as the e-voting adopted to their area.
There is also another legal issue. The items on the screen display were entrusted to each local government, which is the original plan of this proposed special law.
Yet, the items on the screen display become limited to the names of the candidates and their parties in the process of discussion on the proposal. There may be cases that the display with letters alone would be difficult to understand for people who are illiterate, learning disabled or intellectually disabled.
For example, pictgram and ideogram such as the candidate’s face photo, party’s symbol mark, PCS(Picture Communication Symbol), PIC (Pictgram Ideogram Communication) can be thought of being effective. Yet, the current law does not approve of such display items.
The above law articles should be reconsidered from the viewpoint of information accessibility. If that is the case, such display should not be left up to each local government but be mandatory for them to equip with e-voting device. Its mandate should be articulated in the law.


The first e-voting in Japan was overwhelmingly supported due to high accessibility of the selected electronic voting device and the administration’s effort to familiarize the public with it. The effort for barrier-free use in the electronic voting device was made at the stage of its development, thus leading to savings in cost, labor, and time. It also helped the voters in general to make easy and convenient use of it. However, there are many issues left in terms of accessibility for people who are intellectually disabled, deafblind and severely physically disabled people. High technical achievements in this case have not yet been fully shared with all voters. The development of a universal design for elderly and disabled people use needs to be considered not only from the technological aspects but also legal aspects.


We would like to extend our deep appreciation to Mr. Takayuki Morishima (Executive Officer of the Association of Electronic Voting System) for sharing the e-voting system’s resource and photos.


EVS (The Association of Electronic Voting System) 2002. Pamphlet “Denshi Touhyou System” “E-Voting System” (Japanese)

Fukui, T. 1999 “Denshi Touhyou to Shikaku Shogaisha.” “E-voting and People with Visually Impaired.” “TRONWARE” 58. Personal Media Corporation. (Japanese)

Hori, T., Fukui, T. 2002. “Talk To Talk: Barrier-free wo Motomete 3-nen. - Honban Mukaeru Denshi Touhyou.” “Talk To Talk: Three Years’ Pursuing Barrier-free - E-voting Facing the Real Voting.” “Visual Disability - Its Study and Information.” No. 180. 19-28 (Japanese)

Iwasaki, M. 2002. “Okayama Ken Niimi Shi ni okeru Denshi Touhyou ni kansuru Yuukensha Ishiki Tyousa Kekka Houkokusho. <Tanjun Shuukei Sokuhou Ban>” “Report on the Voters’ Attitude Survey Result regarding E-voting in Niimi City, Okayama Prefecture <Simple Compiling, Prompt Edition>” Kyorinn University Social Science Department, Iwasaki Study Group (Japanese)

Study Group on Election System by Electronic Device, 2002, “Houkokusho Heisei 14-nen 2-gatsu.” “Report, February, 2002.” Ministry of Home Affairs, Post and Telecommunications. (http://www.soumu.go.jp/s-news/2002/pdf/020201_2.pdf) (Japanese)

Niimi City Election Administration Committee, 2002. “Denshi Touhyou Taiken Corner.” “E-voting Experience Corner.” (http://www.city.niimi.okayama.jp/soshiki/senkyo/taiken/) (Japanese)

Niimi City. 2002. “Niimi Shigikai no Giin oyobi Niimi Shityou no Senkyo ni okeru Denji-teki Kirokusiki Touhyouki ni yoru Touhyou ni kansuru Jourei.” “Regulation regarding Voting by Electromagnetic Recording Voting Device in the Election of Niimi City Assembly and Mayor.” (http://www.city.niimi.okayama.jp/soshiki/senkyo/jourei/jourei.htm) (Japanese)

Sakajiri, M., Okada, S., et al. 2000. “The development of a communication aid for deaf-blind people to assist their Finger Braille communication using vibration”, In “Proceedings of the 7th International Conference of Computers Helping People with Special Needs”. 617-623.

The Sanyo Sinbun. 2002. “96% ga Kantan.” “Easy, said 96%,” Article in “The Sanyo Shinbun.” June 24.26. (Japanese)

Sato, K. 2002. “Kenshou: Zenkoku Hatsu no Denshi Touhyou, Shougaisha no Senkyo Sanka Youi ni.” “Examination: the First E-voting in Japan, the Disabled People’s Voting, Easier.” Article in “The Mainichi Shinbun.” July 17. (http://www.mainichi.co.jp/eye/kishanome/200207/17.html) (Japanese)

Tanaka, M. et al, 2002. “Denshi Kiki Riyou ni yoru Senkyo System Kenkyuukai Houkokusho.” “Report by Study Group on Election System by E-voting Device” The Ministry of Home Affairs, Post and Telecommunications. (http://www.soumu.go.jp/s-news/2002/pdf/020201_2.pdf) (Japanese)

Tokyo Metropolitan Study Group on E-voting System Examination. 2002. “Houkokusho, Heisei 14- nen 3-gatsu.” “Report, March, 2002.” Tokyo Metropolitan Election Administration Committee (http://www.senkyo.metro.tokyo.jp/2001/jouji/topics/20020416.pdf) (Japanese)

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