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Italians turn out in droves despite virus for referendum

Italians turned out in droves to vote in regional elections and on a referendum on cutting the number of lawmakers by a third, despite the coronavirus pandemic and strict hygiene protocols at all polls.

Turnout at the close of voting Monday indicated that some regions saw nearly 60%-75% of eligible voters cast ballots, including those who voted from home or hospitals because they were sick with COVID-19 or quarantining. An army of volunteers, wearing head-to-toe protective equipment, made house calls to ensure that even virus-affected Italians could vote.

Those who made it to polling centers had to follow strict protocols on wearing face masks and social distancing, with the elderly given precedence in lines and hand sanitizer stations ubiquitous.

Right-wing opposition leader Matteo Salvini,center, leaves a polling station, in Milan, Italy, Monday, Sept. 21, 2020. On Sunday and Monday Italians are called to vote nationwide in a referendum to confirm a historical change to the country's constitution to drastically reduce the number of Members of Parliament from 945 to 600. Eighteen million of Italian citizens will also vote on Sunday and Monday to renew local governors in seven regions, along with mayors in approximately 1,000 cities. (AP PhotoAntonio Calanni)

Voters were choosing new regional administrators in seven Italian regions: Campania, Le Marche, Liguria, Puglia, Tuscany, Valle d’Aosta and Veneto. Mayoral races also were being held in 1,000 towns and cities. The election had been scheduled for the spring but was postponed when Italy became the first country in the West to be struck by the outbreak.

Italy still has the second-highest confirmed virus death toll in Europe after Britain, with over 35,700 deaths. Experts say all figures understate the true impact of the pandemic due to limited testing and missed mild cases, among other factors.

Veneto Gov. Luca Zaia of the right-wing League party was expected to win his third mandate after helping Veneto avoid the worst of the pandemic.

Right-wing opposition leader Matteo Salvini leaves a polling station, in Milan, Italy, Monday, Sept. 21, 2020. On Sunday and Monday Italians are called to vote nationwide in a referendum to confirm a historical change to the country's constitution to drastically reduce the number of Members of Parliament from 945 to 600. Eighteen million of Italian citizens will also vote on Sunday and Monday to renew local governors in seven regions, along with mayors in approximately 1,000 cities. (AP PhotoAntonio Calanni)

The other races were considered a test of the strength of the League against the ruling national parties of the 5-Star Movement and the Democratic Party. The toughest contest was expected in Tuscany, where the League hoped to oust the Democratic Party from the left-wing stronghold.

Italians also voted on a referendum to reduce the number of national lawmakers, which is backed by the 5-Star Movement. The move would cut lower house lawmakers from 630 to 400 and those in the Senate from 315 to 200.

Most parties backed the constitutional reform, which passed parliament but without the two-thirds majority that would have avoided a referendum. No quorum was necessary for the referendum to pass, meaning whichever side has the most vote wins.

Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak