July 12, 2020
ORDIZIA, Spain (AP) — Over 4.4 million Spaniards in two northern regions voted in regional elections Sunday amid tight security measures to avoid more outbreaks of the coronavirus. Regional authorities in both the Basque Country and Galicia prohibited over 400 people who had tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19 from going to polling stations to vote. They would have to vote by mail or delegate their vote to another person.
The decision was backed by both the national electoral board and the Supreme Court in response to a complaint filed by opposition parties, saying that the restrictions were justified in times of pandemic.
Voters were obliged to wear face masks to vote and remain 1.5 meters apart in polling stations, which were equipped with hand sanitizers. Voters placed their national identity cards in trays so they did not have to be handled by those who man the polling stations.
Amaia Arregi, 23, said that she had concerns about voting in Ordizia, a Basque town of under 10,000 residents that is the most worrying hotspot in the Basque Country after the detection of 69 infections in recent days.
“I was a little afraid when I was coming to vote but seeing the security measures in place calmed my nerves,” she said. “The measures taken seem correct to me.” Mail-in voting increased in both regions, as did the abstention rate from the same election four years ago with over 47% of voters in the Basque Country and over 41% in Galicia not casting ballots.
With over 95% of the votes counted in the Basque Country, the regionalist PNV party remained the most voted party, but will likely need to repeat a coalition government with the Socialists of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.
The conservative Popular Party in Galicia was on pace to maintain its absolute majority according to preliminary scrutiny with over 90% of the votes counted. The biggest losers of the night were the far-left United We Can party, which forms part of Sánchez’s national government of progressives.
The surprise was the apparent entry of the far-right Vox party in the Basque parliament with one seat. Both regional governments originally called elections to be held on April 5 but postponed them due to the rapid rise in infections that Spain could only rein in by locking down the country until June.
These were the first elections in Spain since the start of the pandemic that has claimed at least 28,000 lives in the European country. Problems with testing early in the health crisis means that the true count is probably significantly higher.
Health authorities are watching small outbreaks in both regions, as well as in other parts of Spain. In northeast Catalonia, regional authorities tightened the lockdown of a rural area that had been closed off to non-essential travel for a week. Starting Monday, the 138,000 residents of Lleida and those of seven other smaller towns won’t be able to leave their homes except for work and other essential activities.
Authorities are also concerned about an outbreak in the municipality of Hospitalet, which forms part of the greater Barcelona area and has one of the highest population densities in Spain.
Wilson reported from Barcelona.