Clearly passionate but largely patient, Americans turned out in force to elect a president for the first time since the terror attacks of 2001, waiting in cold rain, blowing snow and searing sun to cast ballots in the drum-tight race for the White House.
Election Day unfolded across the nation with minor glitches, no major confrontations and limited legal challenges despite dire predictions to the contrary by activists and analysts beforehand.
Jonathan Rondon sits outside a polling station to answer voting questions in a predominantly Hispanic precinct of Orlando, Fla.
(Phelan M. Ebenhack - AP)
From the bush villages of Alaska to the beaches of Waikiki, from urban teenagers in do-rags to grizzled ranchers in muddy boots, voters were making their voices heard in numbers that surprised election workers at many precincts early on. Lines outside polling stations were expected to peak again with the evening rush-hour.
Waits of an hour or more were common in the Washington metropolitan region, while some voters in the hotly disputed state of Ohio were reportedly warned by poll workers that their wait could exceed five hours.
No widespread technical problems were reported with voting machines, although sporadic glitches cropped up and apparently were repaired.
In Detroit, the Free Press's Web site said police were dispatched to quell scuffles at one overwhelmingly Democratic polling station between Republican observers and poll workers, but no injuries or arrests were reported and voting was not disrupted. Meanwhile, the GOP in Cleveland complained that tires had been slashed on 30 vans the party had rented to ferry voters to the polls, the Associated Press reported.
President Bush returned to the White House to await returns after he and Democratic challenger Sen. John F. Kerry spent their final hours of a bitter campaign barnstorming in the battleground states.
"I know I've given it my all," Bush said after casting his ballot near his ranch in Crawford, Tex. "We'll see how it goes tonight." With the first lady smiling at his side, Bush added, "I feel calm. I have confidence in the judgment of the people."
"We made the case for change," Kerry said after returning to his home state to cast his vote at the Massachusetts Statehouse. Earlier, his voice had hoarsened as he addressed supporters in La Crosse, Wis.
"I am touched and moved," he said. "It's such a magical kind of day."
In north Milwaukee, 19-year-old Maurice Dodson waited in a long line to cast the first presidential vote of his life. "No way I'm leaving," he said after an hour with no ballot in sight. "I'm very excited. Jobs and health care -- those are my issues, and, oh yeah! Don't forget about the troops. Bring 'em home. I don't want to get drafted."
The turnout in the dead heat race was surprising even to election officials. "Some polling places voted 25 percent of their entire registered voters in the first hour," Tom Leach, spokesman for the Chicago Election Board, told the Associated Press. "That's just unheard of."
In Florida, ground-zero for the election problems of 2000, the Miami Herald reported nearly all precincts opening on time and "no sweeping malfunctions."
Only a handful of states allow voters to register on Election Day. In New Hampshire, the Democratic Party helped students at the University of New Hampshire in Durham fill out affidavits changing their residency to that state, along with legal forms to override challenges anticipated by Republicans.