The biggest problem seemed to be more mundane: Reports of late poll openings in the battleground states, long lines everywhere and a shortage of voting equipment and workers at polling places.
The first actual vote counting took place -- as it always does -- in tiny Dixville Notch, N.H. President Bush won big there by a margin of 19-7. The result in Dixville Notch has never signified anything, however. The hamlet has voted Republican since 1972.
Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, speaking at a polling place in Cincinnati, called the vote "historic," with "record voter turnout" in the black community, particularly among young people. Citing a turnout of more than double the usual number of voters in the Bond Hill neighborhood where he was speaking, Jackson noted that not even the dreary, wet weather had dampened enthusiasm.
"The rain is just liquid sunshine," he declared. "So let it rain. It is God's will. Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain."
And while passions ran high, civility appeared to prevail.
At Marquette University in Wisconsin, campus Democrat and Republican organizations claim about 900 members each. "We've been working for days," said Dan Suhr, president of the Republican club. Standing next to him in a voting space, his Democratic club rival, Meredith Salsbery said she "had 45 minutes' sleep last night." Turning to Suhr, she added: "We put in a complaint about you guys with campus security."
"We did the same about you," he responded.
In Milwaukee, turnout in black and Latino neighborhoods was unusually high. The machines click off the number of voters, and by noon in several sites, election inspectors in predominantly black north Milwaukee said that the machines had recorded twice as many votes as at a similar point in the 2000 election.
Several voting sites offered baked goods and coffee, all brought in by neighborhood volunteers. And a festive atmosphere often prevailed, despite the dark skies and wind of early November.
"When I saw that line at Garden Home elementary school, my heart sang," said Eutrice Banks, a 42-year-old nurse. "I wanted to cry for joy." Aaron and Eric McKennie showed up at a polling site in north Milwaukee and faced a line stretching outside, with an hour wait. No matter. The young brothers, who wore matching black do-rags, were going to vote in their first presidential election. "The simple fact is that the president had four years to make it right," said Eric, who works for UPS. "Now I see how the president affects our lives and I want him gone."
In Florida, the streets outside the Duval County elections supervisor's office teemed with campaign partisans who stomped on each others' signs, got in each other's faces and exhorted passing drivers to honk in support of their candidate.
Bush supporter Phanza Greene, 42, had air superiority because he held a bullhorn. "Four more years!" he shouted. But his day in the sun came to a dramatic end when Kerry supporters suddenly rolled up in a red fire truck, blaring its siren and shouting slogans through its microphone." Have no fear, we're here," a supporter on the fire truck said.
Lauri Goodling, 30, of Jacksonville, said the jostling between the parties reminded her of a famous football rivalry that was played here Saturday. "This is a political Florida-Georgia game," said Goodling, a Libertarian who voted for Bush. "I'm a mom and I believe it's important to be proactive on the war on terror," she said.
Joyce Young, 46, of Jacksonville, had other ideas. "He fooled you," she taunted Bush supporters, "but he didn't fool me."
In Miami, streets were lined with sign-toting partisans. Men waved "Viva Bush" placards just feet away from clusters of people shouting, "Kerry, Si!"
"More people are voting . . . [but] everything is smooth and respectful and civil," said Silvia Miniet, 47, after an hour-long wait at a Miami polling station. "Everybody has been very helpful, no matter what candidate or what party you are."
Washington Post staff writers Mike Allen, Darryl Fears, Jonathan Finer, James Grimaldi, Michael Grunwald, Theola Labbe, Michael Powell, Lois Romano, Dale Russakoff, Manuel Roig-Franzia and Amy Shipley contributed to this story.