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Decision Day: Voters form long lines in tight race

11:04 AM, Nov 6, 2012   |    comments
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Lines began forming early at polling places around the country Tuesday as voters turned out for a close election that could be decided by razor-thin margins in key states.

In Virginia, about 75 people stood in line outside a polling auditorium in Alexandria near Washington, D.C. Voting was quick and the line moved fast.

In Dixville Notch, N.H., one of two tiny New Hampshire villages that get to cast the first votes of the presidential election, President Obama and Mitt Romney tied with five votes each - something that has never happened before.

"I'm bewildered, that's the best way to describe my reaction," said voter Peter Johnson, adding he didn't think that Obama would get that many votes.

David Heit, 26, of Denver, woke up at 6:30 a.m. to make the short walk to the First Unitarian Church to cast his ballot for Obama. Ten minutes before the polls opened there were a few people gathering to vote there.

Heit, who works at an after-school program for the Boys and Girls Club, said he's supporting Obama because of his health care and tax policies as well as his support of the Federal Pell Grant program.

"I'm voting to move my country continually in the right direction," he said. "I'm voting to make sure everyone has their right to get health care, to make sure women have their rights to health care and abortion."

A few miles outside of Raleigh, N.C., voters streamed into the Wake County Firearms Education & Training Center to cast ballots. Pat Crosswhite doesn't think Obama deserves four more years.

"I think what he started is terrible," said Crosswhite, who does voice-overs for television commercials. "I don't want him to finish it."

Both campaigns face a series of Election Day worries that have already begun to bubble to the surface.

Ranging from long lines at polling places to disputes over voter identification, Tuesday's vote is already being disputed in some locations.

Both campaigns have assembled legal teams to leap into action at any hint of voting irregularities, like voting machine malfunctions, allegations of voter intimidation and challenges to the legitimacy of absentee and "provisional" votes.

On Sunday, a Florida judge extended early-voting hours in Orange County - a key swing region of a prized battleground state - after Democrats sued to provide more time for long lines of people trying to cast votes.

New York and New Jersey were still scrambling to resolve voting problems created by Hurricane Sandy. New Jersey said it would expand online voting for those whose polling places have been disrupted, a move New York election officials rejected. New York has also had to relocate polling places, which could create voting challenges.

Voters were taking special election shuttles from storm-hit areas and voting by affidavit from any polling place they could reach after officials put emergency measures in place.

Early turnout at dawn appeared high, despite the hurdles.

"It's important because it's our day," said Agim Coma, a 25-year-old construction worker who lost his apartment and car to the storm but was first in line to vote in one New Jersey town. "No matter what happens - hurricanes, tornadoes - it's our day to vote."

Suzanne Krause of Great Neck, N.Y., lost power in the storm and rode out the week with family on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

But on Tuesday, she was headed back to Long Island to check on her house and to cast her ballot, which she feels is important. Her community experienced lots of fallen trees, she said.

"I'm going back now because I want to vote," said Krause, 66.

Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida - all critical swing states for the presidential election - have faced pitched battles throughout the summer over voter-identification laws. As late as last week, Ohio election officials were issuing new rules for what ID is required and how the voter's identification should be certified.

Jay Kumr, 29, of Baytree, Fla., was voting for the first time on Tuesday.

Taking a look at the crowd, Kumr, owner of a preschool, arrived early at a Methodist church to avoid a long line and was surprised at all the people there to vote at 7:30 a.m.

"I like it, it is an interesting thing," she said of the race for president.

The line to vote at the Central Christian Church near downtown Orlando began forming at 6:30 a.m. and by 8 a.m. , as the queue of more than 100 people snaked around the building. When fat, cold raindrops began to fall on the shorts-wearing Floridians, they stood fast.

Dan Moore, 29, umbrella-less and wishing he'd brought his rain jacket shrugged as umbrellas popped up around him. He said he'll vote "no matter what."

"The line's been consistent around the building since we opened," said poll deputy Richard Lamberty, 53.

Voters have needed about 20 minutes to fill out the unusually long ballot and have waited about an hour in line, he said. The precinct has more than 20 voting machines, he said.

Weather is a perennial concern, particularly for Democrats, whose voters are considered less likely to vote in bad weather. Tom Hansford, of the University of California-Merced, studied voting data from 14 presidential elections and concluded turnout decreases by almost 1% per inch of rain.

Beyond the legal and procedural challenges of Election Day, there are an array of intangibles that could affect the outcome, particularly in a very close election.

Ballot position, for instance. In Florida and Wisconsin, state law requires that the presidential candidate of the governor's party - Romney - be listed first.

And for 100 years, observers have noticed that candidates appearing first get a slight boost.

Jon Krosnick, a social psychologist at Stanford University, says the effect may be as large as 3 percentage points. From his studies of presidential ballots, "I'm quite confident that made all the difference in Florida" in 2000, he said.

In Colorado and Nevada, candidates are listed alphabetically, which means Constitution Party candidate Virgil Goode takes the first position. In Virginia, the order for major parties is determined by lot (Republicans won).

In Jefferson, Wis., a steady stream of voters filed into City Hall.

Kaitlyn Linder, 20, voted for the first time with her partner, Sheena Schultz, 22. Linder, a caregiver, voted for Obama "because he stood up for our rights" as a couple.

Mark McQuin, 39, a project manager, also voted for Obama.

But afterward he said what many people Tuesday were thinking: "I'm ready for it to be over."

Contributing: Judy Keen in Wisconsin; Chuck Raasch, Alexandria, Va.; Yamiche Alcindor, Denver; Florida Today; Donna Leinwand Leger, Orlando; Gregory Korte, Washington, D.C.; Melanie Eversley, New York; The Associated Press

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