An estimated 121 million people, or 60 percent of those eligible to vote, are expected to cast their ballots in the deadlocked race between President Bush and Democratic Sen. John Kerry, according to the Commission for the Study of American Electorate. Other officials have estimated the final count of voters could top 160 million or be as low as 110 million. Besides the presidency, voters across the country will choose candidates for the open 34 Senate seats, 11 governorships and all 435 House seats.
Some voters are facing poor weather conditions that could impact turnout. Umbrellas and raincoats were needed in Texas, Tennessee and Alabama as well as regions in the lower Great Lakes. A winter storm warning is posted for sections of hotly contested New Mexico, while snow-covered roads presented a problem in the Texas Panhandle. Still, voters in the swing state of Michigan are braving early morning rain to cast their ballots, the Associated Press reported.
In some places, voters began queuing up before the polling places opened their doors.
“We wanted to come out early to vote but we never expected such a heavy turnout,” voter Linda Russell of Raleigh, N.C., told the AP.
In the battleground state of Florida, Robert Thomas, 21, was among some 150 people in line when the polls opened in Miami, but he said he wished more young people were there.
“We need to get more young people to vote, like myself,” Thomas told the AP. “I looked around and you see some, but it should be a stronger crowd.”
In Pennsylvania, another crucial state for the Bush and Kerry campaigns, voters and polling officials reported record turnout levels.
“I’ve never had to wait in line before,” Fred Flugger, 72, said at his polling place on Pittsburgh’s South Side, where dozens of people were already waiting when he arrived shortly after polls opened. “Usually, if I had to wait, it would be three to four minutes. There’s just a lot of interest in this election.”
Jay Troutman, the judge of elections at a Pittsburgh polling site, told the AP that voter turnout was far exceeding that of the 2000 presidential election.
In Ohio, a key battleground state in the presidential race, Brian Fravel, 43, said he has been voting at the same place in Columbus for 17 years and never had to wait. This year, however, Fravel was surprised to find a long line when he arrived at the polling station at 7:30 a.m. EST.
“I thought I was early enough to beat it,” Fravel, who had to wait for 45 minutes, remarked to the AP.
Such strong voter turnout — even in the early hours on Election Day — was not entirely unexpected. Both parties have focused on turning out their supporters, while independent groups have worked to mobilize targeted groups, including minority, younger and first-time voters.
More than 5 million have already cast their ballots in states allowing early voting, but tens of millions more are expected to head the polls before Election Day winds down, the Associated Press reported.
Polls begin closing around 7 pm EST in most eastern states. Polls in Ohio will close at 7:30 p.m. EST, while the last polls in Florida will close at 8 p.m. EST. The final polls close in Alaska and Hawaii at midnight EST.
With lingering concerns of the contested electoral results in 2000, Republicans and Democrats have said the electoral results may not be known immediately. Both sides have teams of lawyers prepared to challenge close results.
Already this morning, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens ruled that Republicans can challenge voter qualifications inside polling stations in Ohio, a development that Democrats fear could be used to intimidate their core voters.
Several voting problems have been reported, according to Chellie Pingree, president of the citizens lobbying group Common Cause, whose group was running a toll-free voting complaint and information hotline that logged 20,000 calls by 10 a.m. EST.
“Many of the states where the election is closest and contested is where we’re hearing from people most,” she said.