Voters in full force for U.S. poll finale

CHICAGO, Illinois - Voters turned out in force Tuesday, November 6, to claim the final say in a hotly contested US presidential election, with hometown supporters of Barack Obama boldly predicting his re-election.

Freezing-point temperatures in the northeast, light drizzle in Chicago and a threat of thunderstorms in Florida did little to deter citizens from lining up at polling stations, sometimes for several hours.

"Are you kidding? Obama," said retiree Tim Glisson, 57, exiting a polling station in a Chicago school, when asked who he favored. "I voted for him because of his character, his fairness -- just doing the right thing."

"First off, I'm never in my life going to be a Republican," echoed 64-year-old Sandra Rendrich. "Second, I don't think any president can get done what he need to get done in four years."

Besides, she said: "He's the funniest president we've ever had."

Obama, who established his political career in Chicago, was spending election night in the Windy City -- but elsewhere around the country supporters of his Republican challenger Mitt Romney were equally confident of victory.

"We need to change this president," said Ruben Salazar, 72, a Cuban-American who got up early to cast his ballot in Miami. "I need a job for my wife, for my daughter, a better future for my grandsons. That's why I'll vote for Romney."

The United States has no central election authority, but with several hours to go before polls close, state and local officials tasked with electoral logistics reported a strong turnout.

So did an unaffiliated group supporting Romney's vice-presidential running mate Paul Ryan -- "The Campaign to Defeat Obama" -- in a fundraising email.

"Polling location analysis indicates there is heavy Democrat turnout so far today," it said in a fundraising email. "We have to counteract this with a late surge of Republican and conservative Independent turnout."

Battlegrounds

Florida's secretary of state Ken Detzner said turnout in his state -- one of the so-called "battlegrounds" where the local results could swing the national outcome -- could be "record-setting" this year.

"We're excited on both sides," said Caitrin McCarron, a Republican supporter in Arlington, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington, where lines began forming at polling stations before the crack of dawn.

"Virginia is obviously a battleground state," she told AFP, using the American political lingo for a hotly-contested state where the result could swing the final national outcome.

In New Jersey, reeling from superstorm Sandy which left thousands suddenly homeless last week, large numbers of voters waited in line impatiently amid rubble and rotting rubbish.

In Hoboken, across the Hudson River from New York City, one makeshift polling station was 40 minutes late in opening, drawing complaints from the 60 or so people in line.

"Please excuse the appearance of this place," a poll worker told the crowd. "Two days ago, it was under two feet (60 centimeters) of water."

Voters in the battleground state of Ohio wrestled with unusually long ballot papers due to the fact that they were voting not only for the next US president, but also for changes to the state constitution.

"I think that if you had not done some homework, it was very confusing," said Annie Hamilton, a Democrat in University Heights, outside Cleveland.

'Illegal' ballot photos

In southern California, a mariachi band walked the streets of Van Nuys early in the day, stirring up the Latino vote for Obama with popular tunes like "La Bikina." Trailing them was a banner that read: "For our American Dream".

In Oakland, across the bay from famously liberal San Francisco, Tommy Jones, 56, waited 10 minutes to vote at a Baptist church, only to find the line twice as long when he exited.

"As a black man, it is as important to vote this time as any time," said Jones as a woman stepped out of the church, pumped her fist and softly chanted: "Obama."

Online, many Americans used Twitter to post photos of themselves voting, and FourSquare to pinpoint where they did so. Google re-doodled its homepage logo to help users locate their nearest polling station.

Some went so far as to post Instagrams of their ballot papers -- something that, in some states, could be deemed illegal.

Tuesday's very first ballots were cast just after midnight in the New Hampshire hamlet of Dixville Notch, where they were immediately counted. For the first time ever, it was a tie: five for Obama, five for Romney. - Mira Oberman, Agence France-Presse