If there’s one thing I’m prone to now and again, it’s a good, long political rant. I have strong views on a number of today’s issues. You name it — Brexit, Trump, capitalism, socialism — I’ve got an opinion on them. However, if you don’t practice what you preach and exercise your right to vote, then ultimately all those free-flowing Facebook rants and long-form thoughts are meaningless.
But what if you currently live in Japan and still want to participate in the political decisions in your home country? Different nations have different rules, of course, and the extent to which you can participate in your democratic process — as a citizen who lives abroad — varies from country to country.
There are too many different nationalities to list here, so I’ve decided today to concentrate on the five most common amongst our readership: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.S. and the U.K. — all of which, most likely, have elections coming up in the next year or so. If you are from outside these countries, then your best option is to contact your country’s embassy or consulate here in Japan.
To that end, here’s how foreigners in Japan of these nationalities can have their say in their country’s elections (listed in order of upcoming election date).
The next Australian federal election will be held on May 18, 2019.
Quick question: What do North Korea and Australia have in common? Answer? Mandatory voting.
Yes, in Australia, everyone who is eligible to vote is legally required to do so. Of course, if you don’t you’ll be fined AU$20, but dare I say the penalty for such non-compliance in N.K. is probably far more severe!
However, this doesn’t necessarily apply to those overseas. If you are not in Australia at the time of the election, you can apply to be temporarily excused from voting or to have your name taken off the voters’ list indefinitely by completing an Overseas Notification form.
If you do wish to vote, however, and you are registered to do so, you can vote in one of two ways:
- by postal vote
- in person on election day at one of the designated overseas voting centers
For Aussies in Japan, this is the Australian Embassy in Tokyo. Location details and opening times can be found on the Australian Embassy Tokyo Japan website.
Each state within Australia has its own way of doing things, so be sure to check with your local government office…
For postal votes, you can register to do this via the Australian Electoral Commission website.
You cannot, however, vote online. You will need to ensure that your vote is received by the returning officer in your district by the deadline — this is typically 6 p.m. on the day of the vote but this can vary from state to state. Be sure to factor this in when sending your vote and try to get it in as early as possible to avoid the risk of it not being counted.
Each state within Australia has its own way of doing things, so be sure to check with your local government office for the exact specifics for voting from overseas in your constituency, the voting times, registration and submission deadlines and so on.
Earlier this month, a federal election was called in Australia for Saturday May 18, 2019. If you are a registered overseas voter and haven’t received your ballot paper yet, it should arrive within the next week or so.
The next Canadian federal election is scheduled to take place on or before Oct. 21, 2019.
Any Canadian who is eligible to vote under Canadian law can apply to register to vote in elections from abroad. The qualifying criteria are
- that you are a Canadian citizen
- that you are at least 18 years old on election day
- and that you have lived in Canada at some point in your life.
Until fairly recently, Canadians living abroad for more than five years were barred from voting. However this was challenged and this law was formally struck down in Canada’s Supreme Court in January of this year, re-enfranchising millions of Canadians living overseas.
Any Canadian who is eligible to vote under Canadian law can apply to register to vote in elections from abroad.
Before you can cast a ballot, you will have to check if you are on the International Register of Electors on the Elections Canada website. This is a database of Canadian citizens living abroad who are eligible to vote via special ballot. If you are on the International Register of Electors, a voting pack will be sent to you automatically every time there is a general election, by-election or referendum.
To be included on the register, Canadians need to check their eligibility and submit an application form to vote from Japan on the Elections Canada website. The instructions on the site will walk you through the details of how to complete it and what documents and information you’ll need to have handy.
The Elections Canada website does not specify a deadline for overseas voters to submit their ballots. So, you should try to do this as soon as possible, and perhaps get in touch with your local election officer if you are unsure as to when polling will close for your situation.
The next U.S. federal election is scheduled to take place on Nov. 3, 2020.
Unfortunately, the United States is nowhere near as straightforward.
With previous U.S.-Japan hostilities now very much confined to history, today in Japan, Americans make up the majority of non-Asian immigrants into the country.
The complexities of the U.S. political system and its various democratic deficits are well known, but most pertinent among its many unique traits is the clear division between the central government and the governments of each state and that state’s various electoral districts. Each state has its own laws pertaining to how voters are registered and how their votes are collated. At the district level, local election office staff oversee the elections and they decide what needs to be submitted and when in order for a vote to be counted.
Each state has its own laws pertaining to how voters are registered and how their votes are collated.
I asked the media office at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo to find out if they had any guidance for American citizens in Japan who wish to vote from here.
“Unfortunately, there are no simple answers to the questions you have sent. Each state or territory in the U.S. sets their own regulations for voting, so we always refer inquiries to Federal Voting Assistance Program website for more complete information. We always recommend that eligible voters start the process as early as possible.”
4. New Zealand
The next New Zealand federal election will be held on or before Nov. 21, 2020.
New Zealand, being a relatively smaller country to the others on this list, has a much more streamlined and easy-to-follow voting process for its citizens based in Japan.
The New Zealand elections homepage is a one-stop shop for enrolment, downloading of blank ballot papers and uploading of completed ones.
Any New Zealand citizen who is over 18 years old and has lived in New Zealand for at least one year at some point in their life is eligible to register to vote.
The duration of availability of ballot papers and the deadline for submission depends on the type of election being contested. Typically, this information will be published shortly after the date of an election is announced, so be sure to check the site for regular updates.
5. Great Britain
The next general election in the United Kingdom is scheduled to be held on May 5, 2022.
If we’re speaking of dysfunctional democracies, let’s move on to the U.K.
One of the biggest issues that many overseas voters have with the U.K. system is the imposition of a time limit on eligibility to vote. If you have not had a registered address in great Britain within the last 15 years, you will not be eligible to vote. This is the subject of an ongoing legal challenge, but at the time of writing this limit remains in place.
Whether the U.K. does eventually remain in the EU or leave it, laws pertaining to citizens abroad and immigration are all likely to be reviewed once the long-term situation is settled.
If you have not had a registered UK address within the last 15 years, you will not be eligible to vote.
If you are eligible under the current criteria, then you need to register to vote. If your home constituency is in England, Wales or Scotland then you can follow the registration process here.
If your home constituency is in Northern Ireland, then you’ll need to register by post in the “Special Category” section, following the process outlined on the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland website.
There are a couple of exceptions to these procedures.
- U.K. military personnel based overseas can register to vote via the Armed Forces Registration Service.
- If you work for the U.K. civil or diplomatic services or the British Council then you can register on the government’s dedicated Crown servants and British council employees page.
Typically, registration deadlines are between two to three weeks before an election. For example, if you want to vote in the upcoming European elections, to the European Union Parliament on May 23, you need to be registered to vote by May 7.
Again, my apologies if your country wasn’t covered here today. As a fellow contributor pointed out in a previous post, the diversity among the English teaching community here in Japan goes far beyond the “Big 5”.
As I said earlier, if you are unsure how to vote in your home country, be sure to check the website of your consulate or embassy in Japan and they will be able to help you.
In today’s climate, politics gets something of a bad rep. We don’t hold our elected representatives in particularly high regard (often with justification). However, it’s important that we don’t let apathy win the day.
Whether you agree with the current path your country is taking or not, one thing is for certain. If you don’t vote, then your voice will never be heard.
Does your country have an important vote coming up soon? If it isn’t covered here, then please leave a comment and let your fellow citizens know what they have to do to vote while in Japan!