US voters throng polling stations in historic election

November 5th, 2008 - 1:22 am ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaWashington/Chicago, Nov 4 (DPA) Tens of thousands of US voters waited patiently in serpentine queues Tuesday to vote in the country’s historic election. Many had started lining up before dawn and some braved pouring rain to cast their ballot.Officials were prepared for an unprecedented turnout as voters delivered their verdict on Democrat Barack Obama, 47, and his Republican rival John McCain, 72, after the longest and most expensive campaign in US history.

If elected, Obama would be the first African American president in US history. If McCain wins, he will be the oldest president ever to begin his first term.

Obama returned to Chicago, the city where his rise to prominence began, to cast his vote. His running mate Joe Biden voted moments later in Wilmington, Delaware.

McCain voted in Phoenix, Arizona, while his vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin went home to Alaska to vote and said she felt “optimistic and confident”.

“I would like to wake up as vice-presidential elect and work in transition mode with John McCain … it’s great to be home because forever I’ll be Sarah from Alaska,” Palin told reporters.

An aggregate of major national polls compiled by gave Obama 51.9 percent to McCain’s 44.4 per cent Tuesday.

But in the state-by-state, winner-takes-all US system, presidential campaigns focus on key battleground states, and McCain was still hoping to pull off an upset victory by winning in states like Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Millions already took to the polls in recent weeks for early or absentee voting allowed in 31 states, including key battlegrounds Florida, North Carolina, Colorado and Nevada.

More than 31.9 million people voted early, according to professor Michael McDonald, who runs the US elections project at George Mason University, Virginia. This was 25.1 percent of the total vote in the 2004 elections.

An estimated 140 million people are expected to vote Tuesday, up from 121 million in 2004. According to last available figures from the US Census Bureau from 2004, there are 215.7 million people of voting age.

Former president Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary - who lost out on the race to the White House - voted in Chappaqua, New York. “It’s really for me a tremendous opportunity and honour to be part of what I hope will be a great couple of years for America,” she said.

In Washington, the capital where more than half of residents are African American and where Democratic presidential candidates historically easily prevail, voters were expected to endorse Obama’s message of change.

Fred Owens, an African American standing outside Hine Junior High School in the city’s Southeast district, said he voted for Obama because “we need a change,” and downplayed the role of race in his decision.

“I wouldn’t really say it has anything to do with black,” Owens said, adding that McCain didn’t have a clear plan of the direction he wanted to lead to nation. “McCain sounds fake to me,” he said.

Michelle Clipper, an African American woman who had just cast her ballot, was less subtle when she declared she voted for “Barack.” She said: “Come on, man. I think it should be obvious,” she said.

Paul Taylor, a 29-year-old African American student in Chicago said he voted for Obama, but race was not an issue for him. “To support somebody because of their pigment is superficial,” he said.

Taylor said he was impressed by Obama’s energy plan, even though others were more interested in the economy and Iraq war.

In Arlington, Virginia, World War II veteran David Albright said, “I’ve never seen this kind of activity.” The 83-year-old has been voting since 1948.

About 300 voters stood in a line that refused to move outside the New York University dorms in Manhattan - an unusual sight in a city that is constantly moving at a frantic pace.

Voting was an emotional experience for Rick Garcia in Florida. “I’m voting for my brother (who was killed in Afghanistan). This is what he would have wanted,” he told CNN. Garcia said neither he nor his family had voted before this election.

According to tradition, voting began at the stroke of midnight Tuesday in a handful of remote towns in the north-eastern state of New Hampshire. The residents of Dixville Notch have been meeting in the town’s ballot room at midnight each election day since 1960.

Obama won the town’s poll by 15 votes to six for McCain, in a departure from 40 years of Republican loyalty.

Next came Vermont, where one town opened polling stations at 5 a.m. (1000 GMT). All states - except for Alaska and Hawaii - opened at various times till 10 a.m. (1500 GMT). The last polls will close in Hawaii at 0400 GMT and Alaska at 0500 GMT respectively Wednesday.

This election is widely considered the most important in a generation. Until late Monday, McCain and Obama made last-minute pitches to undecided voters in a race across the country.

It was a bittersweet end to the 21-month campaign for Obama: His grandmother Madelyn Dunham, 86, passed away after a battle with cancer, the Illinois senator revealed Monday.

Despite the polls, McCain remained upbeat. In a break from tradition, he planned two final rallies on voting day Tuesday in Colorado and Nevada.

Obama will spend election night in Chicago, where officials expect up to a million people to gather in Grant Park to watch the results and hear from their candidate.

Although election results are scheduled to start coming in about 0100 GMT Wednesday, western states could also play a big role this year, with results expected to filter in well after 0300 GMT.

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