Italians turned out in their droves to vote in regional elections and on a referendum that could cut the number of lawmakers by a third, despite the coronavirus pandemic and strict hygiene protocols at all polling stations.
Exit polls suggested a fairly resounding 'yes' vote won the day in the referendum with a projected share between 60-64% according to exit polls from the Opinio Italia consortium for Italian broadcaster Rai.
The referendum question ran as follows: "Do you approve the text of the Constitutional Law concerning "Amendments to Articles 56, 57 and 59 of the Constitution regarding the reduction of the number of Members of Parliament", approved by Parliament and published in the Official Gazette of the Italian Republic no. 240 of 12 October 2019?
Backed by the 5-Star Movement, ratification of a yes vote would cut lower house lawmakers from 630 to 400 and those in the Senate from 315 to 200.
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.
The constitutional amendment was already approved by parliament and if confirmed, would take effect in 2023 during the next elections.
The vote was originally scheduled for May but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic which killed more than 35,000 people in Italy. The latest polls show that many Italians are in favour of the cut to parliament.
Mayors and governors
Italians will also vote locally to elect 1,000 mayors and seven regional governors, another vote that was delayed due to the pandemic.
The regional election will be a test for the government over its handling of the pandemic. Italy was the first European country to issue a lockdown and was an early virus epicentre.
Since then, however, the country has avoided rising cases longer than several other countries, recording daily increases under 2,000 compared with the more than 10,000 daily cases in France and Spain.
"Presidents of the regions can issue orders that can derogate... national law. So they are quite powerful and people understand this," Cristina Fasone, assistant professor of comparative public law at Luiss University in Rome, told the Associated Press.
The right-wing coalition led by former interior minister Matteo Salvini is likely to confirm strongholds in two regions, according to polls. Three other regions could move to the right.
Salvini's League candidate Susanna Ceccardi is polling head-to-head with her Democratic opponent in Tuscany, which has historically been governed by the left.