How to vote in elections in your home country if you live in Japan

By Liam Carrigan

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).

1. Australia

The next Australian federal election will be held on May 18.

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:

  1. by postal vote
  2. 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.

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. If you are a registered overseas voter and haven’t received your ballot paper yet, it should arrive within the next week or so.

2. Canada

Click here to read more.

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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.

Yes thanks to May when she was Home Secretary.

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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.

Typical U.S. embassy response to questions - refer you to a website.

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If you are a US citizen, you must be registered to vote in a US state. If you miss jury duty, or fail to vote in 2 successive elections, you will be purged from the voter rolls in some states. You may also find that you have to pay state income tax on foreign earned income to vote, as no state I'm aware of allows you to deduct it. If you are a US expat, expect to lose your right to vote at some point. No representation without taxation seems to be the new paradigm.

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US expat, expect to lose your right to vote at some point. No representation without taxation seems to be the new paradigm.

We'll see, but it seems that as an expat, it's become much easier for me to vote in local and national elections. Maybe it's my state. And...I've never been called for jury duty nor been asked to pay state tax, as I think the latter would only be on income earned in the state.

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This has nothing to do with May. Prior to 1985 we were not permitted to register to vote at all but then Thatcher allowed 5 years, later extending this to the current 20 years (because she thought expats would vote tory). It was later reduced to 15 years by Blair in 2000.

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Several years ago I contacted both Republicans Abroad and Democrats Abroad to ask if there was any movement towards establishing a “representative at large” to represent American ex-pats without residence in any state.

The Republicans answered that they had approached the Democrats to raise the issue together. The Democrats never replied.

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Hello Kitty 321

Sorry, yes I was incorrect in my comment. Prior to 1985 expats had no voting rights. The Representation of the Peoples Act 1985 allowed for 5 years living overseas which in 1989 was extended to 20 years but reduced to 15 years in 2002.

British voting rights should come with the passport. Provided you have one then you should be able to vote regardless of how much time living overseas. The law does not apply to diplomats and other embassy staff.

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I registered for a postal vote for the UK general election in 2015. My ballot slip turned up about a week after the deadline for posting it back. I've voted by proxy ever since.

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No representation without taxation seems to be the new paradigm.

There seems some sense to that. Why should those who voluntarily go to live and work in another country expect to have their views imposed on those who stay behind?

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When you pay taxes as in Japan, then there should be a voting right to how that money is used. The voting right of your birth or passport should be a given one too.

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Own property in three countries, UK/Japan/America. Paid taxes in same three countries. But no vote in any of them.

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