Italians Turn Out to Vote Despite Virus, Back Lawmaker Cuts

Italians Turn Out to Vote Despite Virus, Back Lawmaker Cuts
A man wearing a face mask and gloves (R) prepares to cast his vote at a polling station in downtown Rome on Sept. 20, 2020. (Vincenzo Pinto/AFP via Getty Images)
The Associated Press

ROME—Italians voted to reduce the number of national lawmakers by a third, near-final results showed on Sept. 21, as voters turned out in droves to cast ballots despite the coronavirus pandemic and strict hygiene protocols at the polls.

Even though the constitutional referendum to cut the size of parliament had cross-party support, the ruling 5-Star Movement claimed victory in its success, saying it showed voters still responded to the party’s anti-establishment, reform-minded ethos.

At the close of two days of voting on Sept. 21, turnout nationwide was 53 percent, including those who voted from home or hospitals because they were quarantining or sick with COVID-19. An army of volunteers, wearing head-to-toe protective equipment, made house calls to ensure that even virus-affected Italians could cast ballots.

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

“Despite COVID-19, the vote was carried out in full security,” Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese said.

Based on two-thirds of the votes counted, 69 percent of Italians voted “yes” on a constitutional referendum to reduce the number of national lawmakers, the Interior Ministry reported. The proposal, which had passed in parliament but not with the two-thirds margin that would avoid a referendum, cuts lower house lawmakers from 630 to 400 and those in the Senate from 315 to 200.

The 5-Stars had argued that this brings Italy’s bloated bureaucracy more in line with other European countries and will save tens of millions of euros a year.

“For years we were told politicians were untouchable, that they decided everything for us,“ said the 5-Star senator, Paola Taverna. “Today, the people decided and won.”

But the 5-Star Movement, which has grown from a grassroots campaign into the majority party in parliament, could claim no such victory in elections for governors in seven regions that were being contested: Campania, Le Marche, Liguria, Puglia, Tuscany, Valle d’Aosta, and Veneto. There, the races were being decided between Italy’s traditional center-right and center-left blocs.

Veneto Gov. Luca Zaia of the right-wing League party won his third mandate after helping Veneto avoid the worst of the pandemic, according to exit polls reported by the ANSA news agency.

Other races tested the strength of the League against the ruling 5-Stars and the Democratic Party. The toughest contest was in Tuscany, where the League hoped to oust the Democratic Party from the left-wing stronghold. Exit polls indicated the center-left candidate there, Eugenio Giani, had held off the League’s Susanna Ceccardi.

Mayoral races were also held in 1,000 Italian towns and cities.

The regional elections had been scheduled for the spring but were postponed when Italy became the first country in the West to be struck by the pandemic.

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.

By Nicole Winfield