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US presidential polling under way
Updated: 2004-11-02 20:28

US polling stations began opening Tuesday at 6:00 am (1100 GMT) with sharply divided voters choosing between incumbent Republican President George W. Bush, 58, and Democratic challenger John Kerry, 60.

Some 156 million Americans are eligible to vote in one of the tightest presidential election in recent history.

Although voter turnout is unpredictable, analysts believe it will be markedly higher than the 106 million in 2000.

Under the US electoral system, however, it is the candidate who wins at least 270 out of 538 Electoral College votes who wins the election -- in 2000 Bush won the Electoral College vote despite losing the popular vote by more than half a million votes to then vice president Al Gore.

Polling stations opened in nine eastern states: Virginia, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maine, Vermont, New York, Indiana and Kentucky.

The first polling stations close at 7:00 pm eastern time (0001 GMT Wednesday) in Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, South Carolina, Vermont and Virginia. The last polling stations close in Alaska at 0600 GMT Wednesday.

Opinion polls show the race in a virtual dead heat. Five surveys gave Bush a statistically insignificant lead of one or two points while Fox News showed Kerry leading by two points and the American Research Group had a 48-48 percent tie.

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