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."
At Hamline University, in St. Paul, Minn., a local Kerry-Edwards headquarters' call for volunteers brought 500 students, neighborhood residents and nearby activists. By mid-afternoon, volunteers had knocked on every door in the area twice, and were ready to start a third trip. "If they are a different party, no big deal," said organizer LeAllan Estrem. "Offer to help them vote." On the wall behind him, a sign tacked to the wall read: "Annoy them today, they'll thank you tomorrow."
In Jacksonville, Democrats enthused about convoys of volunteer-driven minivans that delivered Duval County voters to polling places in precincts where 16,000 of 27,000 votes were thrown out in 2000. "Sometimes we knock on people's doors and they tell us that we're the third group to come to them that day," said AFL-CIO volunteer Derrick Figures.
But by evening, the early euphoria had changed to confrontation. At 7 p.m., Duval County Elections Supervisor William Scheu rushed through a bedlam of Kerry supporters and put his hand on the broad shoulders of the last man in a long, snaking line of perhaps 100 people. "This is the last voter! The line ends here," he said.
"No matter how many of us they turn away," Natasha Joseph, 24, said, sulking, "Kerry's still going to win."
Behind her was a ruckus. About 70 Kerry supporters were singing civil rights protest songs, dancing in the streets and drowning out Bush supporters, who stood quietly and watched. "It's kind of hostile here," Shawn Lednick said, leaning on his Bush-Cheney sign. Bush supporter Chester Spellman, 26, took a deep breath: "We've got reinforcements coming."
The words were scarcely out of his mouth when a group of vans pulled onto Monroe Street, horns blaring. Within moments, the two sides went at it in the middle of the street -- about 70 people shouting at each other. Traffic stopped.
"Four more years!" yelled the Bush supporters.
"No more years," responded the Kerry backers.
"It's just us and them, going at it," Spellman said. "We're rounding up the troops, ready to get to it."