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Netherlands eases rules for mail-in ballots as election continues…


Reuters . Tue, March 16, 2021, 9:31 AM
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – The Dutch government on Tuesday said that it would adjust rules for accepting mail-in ballots in an ongoing national election, after reports people had made a minor mistake in the proceedure.

The election, in which Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s conservative VVD Party is expected to gain enough support to secure a fourth term, is running for three days, March 15-17, to allow social distancing room at polling stations.

In addition, people 70 years and older were allowed to vote by mail for the first time.

An estimated 6% of voters cast a ballot in person on the 15th, with the lion’s share expected to vote in person on the 17th. Mail-in votes have already been received but will not be tallied until the 17th, with roughly a third of eligible seniors expected to vote by mail.

After reports of mistakes, Interior Affairs Minister Kasja Ollongren said in a letter to parliament on Tuesday that ballots from voters who had included their voting pass in an inner envolope, rather than outside it in a second envelope as instructed, would be counted anyway.

Five polls released this week showed Rutte’s conservative VVD taking 21-26% of the vote, compared with 11-16% for its closest rival, Geert Wilders’ anti-Islam Freedom Party. A member of Rutte’s current coalition, the pro-European D-66 Party, has pulled level with Freedom in recent polls.

With a ban on public gatherings, the election campaign focused on a series of televised debates in which Rutte maintained his image as a steady hand during a time of crisis.

But coronavirus infections in the Netherlands are rising at the fastest pace in months, and the National Institute for Health (RIVM) has advised against easing lockdown measures, saying that hospitals could still be overwhelmed in a third wave of the pandemic driven by more contagious variants.

(Reporting by Toby Sterling; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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