Photo/Illutration Voters listen to a politician’s speech in the Ginza district of Tokyo’s Chuo Ward on Oct. 23. (Yosuke Fukudome)

The two-part voting system for Lower House elections has long been in place in Japan, but many are still confused by the mechanism and how it benefits politicians or the public.

The Asahi Shimbun exchanges information with readers on social media and presents a column to brief them on various political topics.

A public servant in her 30s in Saitama Prefecture north of Tokyo asked the column to explain Japan’s electoral framework, which combines single-seat constituencies with proportional representation.

“The system is difficult to comprehend,” she wrote. “Does that work in favor of politicians?”

Voters in a Lower House election arrive at polling stations, have their IDs checked and are given two strips of paper to jot down a candidate’s name and their preferred political party.

The candidate’s name is used for the single-seat constituency system while the party listed is for the proportional representation segment.

For the 465-seat Lower House, 289 members are elected from single-seat constituencies, and the remaining 176 are picked from 11 proportional representation blocks.

Some candidates campaign under both systems because losers in single-seat races can still gain Lower House seats through the proportional representation framework.

“To win via the proportional representation system, candidates resort to a wide range of tactics in their campaigns,” said Kaoru Matsuda, 41, a veteran campaign manager.

Proportional representation politicians are elected based on the percentages of votes gained by their parties. The seats are allocated to those placed highest on the parties’ lists of candidates.

If more than one candidate occupy the same place on the list, the one who lost in a single-seat constituency but came closest to winning it will gain the proportional representation seat based on total ballots received.

This is considered a benefit of the double-framework electoral system, which was introduced in the 1996 Lower House election to replace multiple-member constituencies.

Only one candidate can win in a single-seat constituency, meaning that ballots cast for the losers in the race could be considered “wasted” votes in terms of representation in the Diet.

In addition, the number of seats won by a party could be disproportionate to the total number of votes gained by the party’s candidates in all single-seat constituencies.

If candidate A receives 100,001 votes and candidate B loses by one ballot, the opinions of the 100,000 voters for B would not be reflected in politics without the proportional representation system.

“Ballots cast for rejected politicians in their single-seat constituencies can still be used to reflect various views of voters (through the proportional representation mechanism),” Matsuda said. “This is the system’s merit.”

He mentioned one battle between a candidate endorsed by the ruling coalition and an opposition-backed politician for the same single-seat constituency.

Although the coalition candidate took an overwhelming lead, the opposition candidate made pitches to his rival’s supporters, insisting it “will be better for this region to have two lawmakers” and “both ruling and opposition members are necessary for the Diet.”

The opposition-backed candidate lost in the single-seat constituency but received more votes than initially expected and won a seat in the proportional representation segment.

“The (opposition) candidate succeeded in splitting the ballots,” Matsuda said.

Some overseas nations have either proportional representation seats or single-seat constituencies.

The Borda count is also a method commonly used abroad. Voters assign, for example, three points, two points and one point to the top, second and third candidates. The overall winner is determined based on the total scores.

“The election results could change greatly depending on the polling system,” Matsuda said. “Voters should discuss how to better reflect the opinions of citizens, who have sovereignty.”