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US voters flock to polls after slugfest
Updated: 2004-11-03 02:51

In an election that bid to rival the photo finish of 2000, voters chose on Tuesday between President Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry after a slugfest campaign that intensified through the year. Bush, voting in Texas, said, "I've given it my all." Kerry, still campaigning in Wisconsin, promised to take the nation "to a better place."

U.S. President George W. Bush speaks to the press under a banner reading "No phone number left behind," at the Ohio headquarters of the Bush-Cheney election campaign calling center in Columbus on election day November 2, 2004. [Reuters]
U.S. Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry (R) and his wife Teresa Heinz-Kerry wave from the campaign plane after arriving in Bedford, Massachusetts, November 2, 2004. Kerry ended his election campaigning and returned to vote in today's 2004 presidential election against President George W. Bush. [Reuters]
Peter Baez, 84, and his wife Phyllis (R) of Great Falls, Virginia, leave after casting their ballots while others wait in line to vote in Great Falls, Virginia, November 2, 2004. [Reuters]
There were long lines at polling places, and officials predicted record turnout in the first wartime election in a generation.

"This election is in the hands of the people, and I feel very comfortable about that," Bush said after voting near his ranch in Crawford, Texas, along with his wife and daughters.

On his way back to Washingtogupn, he stopped in Columbus, Ohio, and made a few calls from a phone bank. "I promise you, it's me," he told one doubter.

Kerry voted along with his daughters at the Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston. "I don't think anybody can anticipate what it's like to see your name on the ballot for president," he said. "It's very special. It's exciting." His wife cast her ballot earlier in Pennsylvania.

At dawn, he was handing out information packets to volunteers in La Crosse, Wis., where he said, "We're going to take America to a better place." Aides said he handed out presents on an emotional campaign-concluding flight back to Massachusetts.

It was the first presidential election since the United States plunged into its epochal war on terrorism, and heavy crowds were reported at polling places in the East, the first precincts to open. Long lines snaked out the doors as voters waited, some in the rain, and brought chairs for expected long waits.

The prospect of unprecedented legal challenges hung over Election Day, each side sending thousands of lawyers into motion to monitor the flood of newly registered voters and mount hair-trigger challenges against any sign of irregularity.

There were scattered early reports of machine breakdowns, late openings and other problems. One woman in Toledo sued election officials on behalf of Ohio voters who said they did not receive absentee ballots on time.

"My hope of course is that this election ends tonight," Bush told reporters, referring to the expected legal challenges in some districts. He won the presidency in 2000 only after a Supreme Court decision gave him Florida and the Electoral College majority.

Of Kerry, Bush said, "I wish him all the best. He and I are in the exact same position ... I'm sure he's happy, like I am, that the campaign is over."

For his part, Kerry made Election Day appearances in Wisconsin, where residents can register and vote on the same day. Of the reports of long voter lines, he said, "It's just a magical kind of day."

By all signs, voters were engaged.

Long lines were reported at precincts from Florida and North Carolina to West Virginia and Michigan. "We even had people waiting in line before we opened at 6:30 a.m.," said Wayne County Clerk Robert Pasley in Wayne, W.Va. "In some places, there was more than a dozen people waiting, and that's heavy."

Rain was falling in parts of the Midwest as voters lined up. Brian Fravel, a 43-year-old welder who lives in Columbus, Ohio, said he had never before had to wait to vote. When he arrived at the Northland Church of Christ at 7:30 a.m., he found a long line of people and waited 45 minutes to cast a ballot. "I thought I was early enough to beat it," Fravel said.

The final pre-election polls turned up tied ! 49-49 in one CNN-USA Today-Gallup survey, with Ralph Nader at 1 percent. Tight surveys in Florida and a variety of Midwestern states including Ohio deepened the mystery over who would collect the necessary 270 electoral votes.

Both candidates cast their candidacies as vital to the country's welfare. Bush declared the "safety and prosperity of America" was at stake, and Kerry said that "the hopes of our country are on the line."


Overnight, the Bush campaign sent an e-mail from the president exhorting people to vote ! "It comes down to today" ! and asking that the recipient forward the e-mail to five more people. Kerry e-mailed a similar call to arms: "When you go to the polls bring your friends, your family, your neighbors. No one can afford to stand on the sidelines or sit this one out."

The nation's first votes cast and counted on Election Day, in the mountain hamlet of Hart's Location, N.H., reflected in miniature what seemed likely to be writ large across the country: a horse race in votes, not just polls.

Following a quirky tradition of post-midnight voting in New Hampshire's North Country, 16 people voted for Bush, 14 for Kerry and one for Ralph Nader. Bush beat Democrat Al Gore 17-13 in the hamlet in 2000.

In an 11th-hour blow for Democrats in battleground Ohio, an appeals court in Cincinnati stayed lower court decisions and cleared the way for vote challengers to be present at polling places in the state Tuesday. Democrats had claimed Republicans were seeking to discourage minority voters by keeping party representatives out of polling stations.

The decisions were quickly appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Justice John Paul Stevens declined to overturn the appeals court action in an order issued little more than hour before the polls there opened.

Polls found not only a sizzling contest again this time but a sense among people that this election counted more than others in the recent past. As well, untold millions took advantage of expanded opportunities to vote before Election Day in 32 states.

"Every election's important ... but my very survival is an issue, and that never was," said Margie Miller, 55, of Baldwin, N.Y., whose husband, Joel, died at his 97th-floor desk at the World Trade Center in the Sept. 11 attacks. "All I care about is safety, safety, safety."

Bush and Kerry touched on that theme ! people's safety ! until the final moments of their almost relentlessly rancorous battle, both promising steadfast leadership in the war on terrorism and a single-minded focus on the nation's security.

Their running mates had campaigned almost nonstop, as well.

Sen. John Edwards, who had cast his North Carolina ballot in early voting, stopped by polling places in Florida on Election Day and said, "We believe the system's going to work the way it's supposed to." Vice President Dick Cheney) voted near his home in Wyoming and said, "When you start a day like this in Jackson Hole, it's going to be a good day."

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