Italians vote in seven regional contests shaped by pandemic

ROME (AP) — Italians in seven regions headed to the polls yesterday for two days of voting shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Voters were required to wear masks and maintain social distancing as they cast ballots in regional contests originally scheduled for the spring but delayed due to the pandemic. Italy’s outbreak has claimed more than 35,600 lives — the second-worst confirmed death toll in Europe after Britain — and stricken 296,500 people since February.

For the first time, voters over 65 will have preferential access and will be guided to the front of any line by volunteers from Italy’s civil protection agency.

Once inside, voters may lower their masks just long enough to confirm their identity against voting cards and ID documents. And in a change, voters leaving the voting booths will place the ballots inside the boxes themselves, instead of turning them over to poll workers.

Veneto Gov Luca Zaia of the right-wing League party is expected to win his third mandate handily after helping Veneto avoid the worst of the pandemic through targetted testing early on and protocols that took the pressure off intensive care wards.

In the region of five million people centred around Venice, confirmed virus deaths have numbered 2,158, compared with 16,917 in Lombardy, the epicentre of Italy’s epidemic with a population of 10 million.

The other races are considered a test of the strength of the right-wing opposition, led by League leader Matteo Salvini, against the ruling parties of the 5-Star Movement and the Democratic Party. The toughest contest is expected in Tuscany, where Salvini is betting his candidate can oust the Democratic Party from the left-wing stronghold.

Regional leadership is also being decided in Liguria, Le Marche, Campania, Puglia and Valle d’Aosta. Mayoral races also were being held in 1,000 towns and cities.

A man casts his ballot at a polling station, in Rome. PHOTO: AP