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Record turnout for US election

Video by Hélène DROUET , Yuka ROYER , Laure CONSTANTINESCO

Text by FRANCE 24 , Clea CAULCUTT

Latest update : 2008-11-05

Election officials in the USA braced for record turnouts in Tuesday's historic presidential elections, with Democratic candidate Barack Obama leading in the polls against Republican rival John McCain. (Photo: Voters line up in New York.)


Watch our two-part Debate: 'Can Obama live up to the hype?' 

Read our special coverage from Chicago and Phoenix

View our correspondent's campaign chronicle: 'Washington's sole black university dubious about race argument'

The Observers: 'The world holds its breath on election eve'



Long queues snaked outside polling stations Tuesday at the start of a momentous day of voting - a day that would place either the first black president or the first female vice-president in the White House. 


At least 130 million Americans were expected to crowd polling stations across the United States in an historic vote, as the world’s superpower faces a deep financial crisis, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a budget deficit running close to $500 billion.


After campaigning for nearly two years, the candidates voted in their home states – Democratic Barack Obama in Chicago, Illinois, Republican John McCain in Phoenix, Arizona – awaiting Americans' judgment.


Our correspondent Leela Jacinto criss-crossed Obama’s hometown, Chicago, as confident voters crammed polling stations. At a polling place on Chicago’s South Michigan Ave., a picturesque boulevard that runs parallel to Grant Park, where Obama is set to end his campaign later tonight, the mood was upbeat, she reported.


“It feels great,” said Pam Ricci, a 55-year-old human resource administrator. “Yes, this is history, we’re gonna make history today - whichever way the vote goes.”


John McCain’s polling station is located in a Methodist church in Albright, a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona. The Pastor here is a woman. Her husband, Ross Perry, told our special correspondent, Marie Valla, that he had never seen such a crowd. He voted early in the morning in a nearby polling station. When he arrived, at 5:30 am, half an hour before the station opened, more than 100 people were already waiting in line.


Despite knowing that they would have to brave hour-long waits, most voters when asked said they preferred to vote on the actual day of the election.


“It’s kind of like a holiday,” joked John Hamel, a 53-year-old engineer who in the past had voted for both the Republican and Democratic parties. This time, he chose Barack Obama “for his economic policy.” “I’m looking for a property in Argentina,” he added. “If McCain wins I’m out of here.” 


Eyes on the swing states


While the latest polls released by Reuters-Zogby gave Obama an astounding 11-point advantage over his rival, the election hangs on a number of swing states at the heart of the titanic battle between the Republicans and the Democrats.


To be elected president, candidates must secure 270 of the 538 electoral college votes allotted to the different US states. In all states except Maine and Nebraska, which have proportional voting systems, the winning candidate takes all the votes. 


The race is extremely tight in Florida (27 electoral votes) and Ohio (20). An early victory for Obama in either state could dash all hope for McCain. In Ohio, the latest polls gave Obama a lead over McCain. In 2004, Bush beat the former Democratic candidate, John Kerry, by 120,000 in this key state.


Florida hit headlines in 2000 over vote recounting and suspected fraud and the state’s ethnic and social diversity means that vote results are difficult to predict. Floridian retirees are more inclined to vote for McCain though the polls give Obama a slight advantage overall.


However, in the wake of dissatisfaction with the legacy of two George W. Bush terms and a buoyant Democratic campaign, the Illinois senator has also been making inroads into normally Republican territory. He has also been wooing voters in North Carolina and Virginia in the final laps of the race.


McCain, however, remained defiant and faithful to his reputation as a war hero who pulled through against all odds. “The pundits may not know it and the Democrats may not know it, but the 'Mac is back' and we're going to win this election!” he hammered as he raced through Florida.


In an interview with FRANCE 24, Anne Deysine, an American politics professor at Paris University, said Virginia was a key battleground state to watch, “because Virginia stops voting early and has not voted Democrat since 1964.” She added that “if Virginia votes for Obama, not only will he win but he win also secure a landslide victory.”


High turnout expected


The turnout for the 2008 presidential election is expected to be high. Early voting was especially popular in the 20 states that allowed electors to cast their ballot by post or in person before Nov. 4. About 20% of US voters were expected to cast their ballots before election day.


The first polls close in parts of Indiana and Kentucky around 10 PM (GMT + 1), giving political pundits and commentators a first glimpse of the results. Polling stations in most other states close six hours later.



Date created : 2008-11-04