Reeling from economic hardship and riven by polarising social issues through months of a gruelling campaign, a nation took its fate into its own hands on a clear Tuesday morning as well over 120 million Americans headed to their local voting stations to elect their next President.
Although by early afternoon, voting was said to be progressing “without major issues” at most locations, under the intense gaze of media scrutiny glitches emerged in some states such as Florida and Ohio and slowed down progress.
Even as voting began shortly after midnight in two tiny villages in New Hampshire, polls of likely voters across the country remained firmly decided in their verdict of a dead heat between incumbent President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Mr. Obama however continued to hold onto a sliver of a lead in swing states, according to most polls.
Election Day here marks the culmination of months of a gruelling, sometimes sharply bitter, campaign, which saw the contenders for the White House attack each other over the economy and job-creation, social issues such as women’s reproductive rights, and broader socio-economic questions over immigration reform.
While Mr. Obama enters Tuesday’s contest with strong support from women and minority groups such as Hispanics, his support among some sections such as African-Americans is said to be less than it was in 2008 and Mr. Romney’s received a major boost in the polls since his front-foot performance during the presidential debates of October.
Although most states reported brisk voting and long, sometimes slow-moving lines of voters, in some areas such as Florida’s Miami-Dade county, famous for the embarrassing 2000 episode of voting miscounts arising from “dimpled chads” and “butterfly ballots,” glitches in the voting process stalled progress. In some cases people were forced to abandon the line and return to work after inordinate delays.
Late breaking news from the Broward County in the southern part of the state suggested that up to 700 votes cast early had been rejected by officials, possibly because some ballots were not signed as required and identities could not be established. Questions of voter identity in Florida may be situated in the context of the State’s Republican administration coming under fire for voter suppression issues.
Under U.S. regulations votes may be cast early, as absentee votes, as provisional votes where there were unresolved questions of identification, and even electronically in areas where hurricane Sandy derailed some of the arrangements.
While many votes across the nation were already cast before Tuesday under one of these methods, in Florida criticism centred on Republican Governor Rick Scott’s move to reduce early voting hours on Saturday. As a result, even though some Floridians waited seven hours to cast “in-person absentee votes” that day, they were not all given the option to do so.
All eyes were however on Ohio, which has emerged as the vital swing state and potential decider in the election of the 45th President, and concerns were raised there that provisional ballots, which cannot be counted until ten days after the elections, were still being disputed in a series of legal battles.
If the race for the 270 Electoral College votes required to secure the presidency comes down to the Buckeye State’s final tally, then the resolution of the disputes, focused on voter ID requirements within the provisional ballot form, could delay the ultimate result for more than a week, perhaps longer.
Although Mr. Obama became the first sitting president to cast an early ballot in person more than a week ago in Chicago, Illinois, Mr. Romney and the running mates, Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan, cast their votes in their home states of Massachusetts, Delaware and Wisconsin respectively.