Photo/IllutrationThe Asahi Shimbun

A government commission on April 19 recommended the largest-ever redrawing of Lower House electoral district boundaries, although the proposal would just barely meet Supreme Court standards on rectifying the disparity in vote values.

The Supreme Court has ruled that three consecutive Lower House elections have been conducted in a “state of unconstitutionality” because one vote in the least populous district was worth more than two times a vote in the most populous district.

Like past rezoning plans, the new reapportionment proposal is based on the 2015 census. But the commission added a twist and used that census to forecast populations for 2020 in redrawing the electoral district boundaries.

That led to calculations that one vote in the least populous district would be 1.999 times that in the most populous district in 2020.

If nothing is done with the electoral districts, the vote disparity would remain at a ratio of 1:2.552.

However, past examples leave open the possibility that another state of unconstitutionality could quickly arise with the new electoral district boundaries. A shift in demographics, for example, could again lead to one vote in the least populous district being worth more than two in the most populous district.

The redrawing recommendation, which was presented to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is based on a law enacted in May 2016 to reapportion seats in the Lower House. The law called for eliminating electoral district seats from six prefectures as well as proportional representation seats from four regional blocs without adding any seats, thereby reducing the number of Lower House seats from the current 475 to 465.

The government commission was tasked with redrawing the electoral districts in line with the revised electoral system law.

All 27 electoral districts in the six prefectures that will lose seats are being redrawn, as well as the boundaries for a total of 97 electoral districts in 19 prefectures, making the plan the largest redrawing of electoral district boundaries in Japan’s history.

The government plans to submit legislation to the Diet in May to put the recommendations into effect. The legislation is expected to be passed before the end of the current Diet session on June 18.

The law will likely take effect about a month after it passes the Diet because of the need to widely disseminate the new electoral district boundaries to the voting public.

That would mean that a Lower House election using the new electoral district boundaries would probably only be possible after this summer.

Voters in the newly redrawn electoral districts could also encounter some confusion because current municipal boundaries are ignored in some cases. Residents of a city might find themselves split into two different districts.

Moreover, voters should not become too accustomed to the new districts because another change is expected around 2022, when seats are reapportioned to the 47 prefectures based on population calculated from the 2020 census using a new seat allocation method.

(This article was written by Ryuichi Hisanaga and Yuka Takeshita.)