Washington Post Staff

Election Day is here, and Americans are lining up at poll stations around the country to cast their vote for the next President of the United States. In some cases, voters were patiently waiting to fill out a ballot before the sun even rose, according to Debbi Wilgoren:

They lined up before dawn in the cold and the dark, voters of all political persuasions, clutching cups of hot coffee and their American dreams.

Some were inspired by the campaign rhetoric of President Obama or Republican challenger Mitt Romney, or motivated by the conviction that one of the two — if elected — would lead the country down the wrong path.

Others said neither candidate really appealed to them, but the idea of not voting at all seemed even worse.

In storm-ravaged New Jersey, deep purple Virginia and all-important Ohio, the rhetorical battles that Democrats and Republicans have waged for months finally gave way to the simplest of civic traditions: one voter, one ballot and the freedom to decide.

“I definitely feel we’re headed in the wrong direction,” said Cindy Foister, a 55-year-old federal government employee, who was one of a dozen people waiting outside a polling station in Crystal City as of 5:30 a.m. She voted the straight Republican ticket.

Charren Brooks, 44, who works for an architectural engineer, showed up just as early at the same precinct to cast her vote for Obama. “I want to see what he will do in his second term,” Brooks said. “Me personally, I’m in a better place than I was” before Obama became president.

Obama holds a slim edge in both national and battleground state polls, and seems to have gained ground over Romney in the final days of the campaign. But with the nation’s economic recovery proceeding at a slow pace and continued battles in key states over how provisional and absentee ballots will be counted, analysts say the results of Tuesday’s voting may not be known until long after the polls close.

Lines had dwindled at many polling stations by mid-morning, as voters with 9-to-5 jobs made their choices and headed to work. But at Webster Elementary School in Manchester, N.H., a battleground state, about 350 people were still facing an hour-long wait at 10:30 a.m..

“This is unusual. Usually you’re out in 20 minutes,” said Patty Hicks. “I think people realize how important this election is. Every vote counts.”

Bonnie Argeropoulos, an exit poller stationed at the school, said she didn’t know what she would do if the lines continued. “I’m going to run out of surveys,” she said. “I’ve never seen it like this.”

The lines were so long in the early morning long in swing state Virginia that many people were late for work. Susan Svrluga wrote:

At 8 a.m., in Arlington, Va., 644 people were lined up outside an apartment building polling station, almost all of them late for work. “I’m glad to see everyone out, it doesn’t matter who they’re voting for,” said Emma Durazzo, 84, who works at the Pentagon and, in 28 years in the neighborhood, has never seen lines like this on Election Day. She had noticed the lights of cars pulling into the parking lot before dawn from her apartment building next door, and hurried over. “The vote is important to me. I’ve been through civil rights… I remember when we didn’t have this,” said Durazzo, who is African American. ” I don’t mind waiting.”

In New Hampshire, voters struggled to find parking spaces and were anticipating long wait times in lines, according to Darryl Fears.

Here in the swing state of New Hampshire, voting at Webster Elementary School in Manchester required some effort.

Voters had to find a parking space – almost impossible near the school – then walk a fair distance, many with kids in tow. At 10:30 a.m. there were about 350 people already in line.

“I didn’t anticipate this,” said Megan Doherty, clutching an infant to her chest and holding the hand of bouncy 8-year-old Fiona. “Can you put me in the paper and say I’m awesome?” Fiona asked.

Doherty’s wait figured to be more than an hour.

“I’ve always voted here. This is unusual,” said Patty Hicks. “Usually you’re out in 20 minutes. I think people realize how important this election is. Every vote counts.”

Long lines were not the case eveywhere though. Jenna Johnson observed few voters in line as one polling station opened at Iowa State University:

It was a few minutes before the polling location on the first floor of Iowa State University’s Maple Residence Hall was set to open and no voters had shown up. The poll is exclusive to those with an on-campus address — and all of them were likely still asleep.

One minute before 7 a.m. Cody Rufer walked in with a printed-out bill and a driver’s license, looking to change his registration from Wisconsin to Iowa and vote. Twenty minutes later he had cast a ballot for mostly democrats, including voting for Obama for president. It was his first time voting in a presidential election.

“I come from a working class family, and we’ve always struggled to pay bills,” said Rufer, 20, a junior horticulture major. “We can’t afford to pay any more taxes.” ...

As of 7:30 a.m. there still wasn’t a line. Two other students had voted, and three others had returned to their dorm rooms to fetch proper identification or an absentee ballot.