It's all but official: Turnout in the 2004 election was the highest in 36 years.

The Committee for the Study of the American Electorate estimated that 120.2 million people cast ballots Tuesday, a figure that translates into a 59.6 percent turnout rate. That's five percentage points higher and 15 million more voters than in 2000, the group says -- and the largest turnout since Richard M. Nixon faced Hubert H. Humphrey in the 1968 election.

The biggest increases, not surprisingly, came in the battleground states. Turnout there grew by 6.3 percentage points, while about half as many more voters went to the polls in uncontested states. The largest turnout came in such states as Minnesota (76.2 percent), Wisconsin (73.7) and New Hampshire (71.6). The smallest were Georgia (49.6), Hawaii (48.3) and Arizona (42.3), which the group predicted would be the only state in which turnout declined.

The findings are based on unofficial election results and estimates of outstanding ballots. Curtis Gans, the committee's director, said 115 million votes have been counted while 5 million provisional, absentee and mail ballots are waiting to be tallied. Final numbers are expected by early December. The percentages are based on the number of citizens who are eligible to vote -- rather than number of registered voters, which some voter studies use -- in each state.

The group attributed the increases to voters' strongly divided opinions of the Bush administration and the vast get-out-the-vote efforts mounted by Democrats and Republicans. But, the report said, the public's renewed interest in voting could be ephemeral.

"Unless there is a continuation of the deeply felt political divisions in the nation, the substantial turnout increase of 2004, of about the same magnitude as the turnout increase between the elections of 1988 and 1992, is likely, in as the earlier turnout rise, to prove temporary," it said.

Dark Day for Dark Horses

It wasn't a good year to run for president if your name wasn't Bush or Kerry.

The menagerie of independent and third-party presidential candidates fared worse in Tuesday's election than in any contest since 1988, according to the unofficial results.

While record numbers of voters took to the polls, the also-rans together eked out only a little more than 1 million votes. Independent Ralph Nader, who faced a long legal fight to get his name on the ballots, won about 400,000 votes. Libertarian Michael Badnarik was a step behind, with around 380,000. Constitution Party candidate Michael Peroutka won 130,000 votes. Green Party candidate David Cobb, who defeated Nader for the party's nomination, came in with a shade more than 105,000 votes.

The "other" totals may increase as the states finalize their numbers. But they won't end up anywhere near the almost 4 million votes the top 10 minor-party candidates won in 2000. Nader, who then ran as the Greens' standard-bearer, won more than 2.8 million ballots that year. In 1996, the top 10 also-rans won more than 9 million votes, the bulk of which were won by Texas billionaire and Reform Party candidate Ross Perot. He was also responsible for the biggest chunk of the more than 20 million votes cast for minor candidates in 1992. The 1988, the also-rans together took about 850,000 ballots.

Third-party candidates always have a tough time getting their names on ballots and in the newspapers. But this year, experts said, the clear and presumably consequential choice between President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry left the others out in the cold even more than usual.

"This was not a year for third-party protest movements," said Micah Sifry, who has written about third parties. "The election was a referendum on George W. Bush, and most people felt that their vote had to either go for him or against him."

Eddie the dog awaits Kirsten Nichols as she casts her ballot in Middleton, Wis. Among states with high voter participation on Election Day, Wisconsin was near the top.