For voters of all colors, all ages, Republican, Democrat -- yesterday was an epic day, stirring passion, excitement and anticipation, the likes of which many of them had rarely known. Politics and voting were in, and apathy was gone.
Many state officials had predicted a record turnout, especially in key battlegrounds. Florida Secretary of State Glenda E. Hood said voting there should exceed the 1992 record of 5.96 million, while Democratic strategists suggested it could reach 7 million.
In Ohio, another major battleground, election officials projected a turnout of 5.8 million, smashing the 1992 record of 4.9 million. By nightfall, elections officials in Wisconsin said they had already exceeded the 2000 turnout, even as homeward-bound commuters poured into polling places
Voters clogged the polls. In Gambier, Ohio, residents and Kenyon College students stood for as long as seven hours in the rain to vote at one of two booths. In Jacksonville, Fla., election officials kept polls open late to accommodate a long line of waiting voters as impassioned partisans shouted slogans at each other.
In New Hampshire, a heavy turnout led to hours-long delays in some of the state's largest precincts. In Pennsylvania, problems with provisional ballots in the Pittsburgh area prompted officials to extend voting in Allegheny County until 9:30 p.m.
About 173.6 million people had registered to vote nationwide, the largest number in history, and parties, campaigns and independent groups mounted get-out-the-vote efforts to get them to the polls.
Pollsters predicted that the turnout would eclipse the 105,396,627 who voted in 2000. Whatever mistakes President Bush and Democratic challenger John F. Kerry may have made during the campaign, they did a spectacular job of energizing the electorate.
Long lines were reported everywhere, with voters motivated by the same issues that had dominated the campaign: terrorism; the war in Iraq; the economy; abortion; and a pervasive feeling -- both for good and ill -- that the country was badly divided, and that every vote counted.
In Las Vegas, veteran poll worker Chuck Buchner compared the morning onrush to "D-Day," beginning with "two hours in the trenches." At New Hampshire's busiest voting place, in Derry, officials processed about 1,000 voters per hour deep into the evening.
In Cleveland, fleets of buses plied inner-city neighborhoods to bring new Democrats to the polls. In pro-Republican Waukesha, Wis., outside Milwaukee, election officials reported the largest turnout in decades. In downtown Miami, dueling demonstrators stood on opposite sides of the street waving placards saying "Viva Bush!" and shouting "Kerry . . . Si!"
Everyone seemed to care. Activists and poll watchers reported unusually large numbers of new voters, minority voters and -- perhaps the most dramatic evidence that this would not be an ordinary election -- hordes of young people.
"In school, when people are talking about who they are going to vote for, if somebody says they are not going to vote, they are looked down upon," said Bush backer Karl Ecker, 19, of Barry University in Miami Shores.
In tiny Gambier, Kenyon College student Alexandra Kernan-Schloss, 19, a psychology major from Arlington, stood in freezing rain and endured a seven-hour wait to get into one of only two voting booths election officials had set up there.
She criticized Republicans for allegedly trying to discourage voting by students at "a very liberal school," but she vowed to stick it out, helped by handouts of pizza, sweatshirts and umbrellas. "It's frustrating, but it's a cool feeling," she said. "Really exciting."