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Portugal votes in socially distanced presidential election at height of pandemic

LISBON — Masked, socially distanced and each using their own pen to avoid spreading germs, the Portuguese headed to the polls on Sunday to vote for the largely ceremonial post of president even as coronavirus cases reach record levels.

Opinion polls show that the incumbent, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa of the center-right Social Democratic Party, is likely to win with ease.

“I’m here among the first to avoid groups and queues,” said Cristina Queda, 58, who arrived at her polling station in Lisbon as soon as it opened at 8 a.m. “Since the date of the elections wasn’t changed, I decided to come early to avoid that situation.”

Just under two thirds of Portuguese thought the election should have been postponed because of the pandemic, according to a poll conducted last week by research institute ISC/ISCTE.

Some later arrivals reported waiting around half an hour in queues that went around the block, as rules dictated voters must stand two meters apart with just one person allowed inside at a time.

Pollsters predict record abstention of 60-70% in part because hundreds of thousands of voters are themselves in quarantine.

Casting his vote at a Lisbon school, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said all measures were taken to prevent contagion.

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