U.S. voters hit the polls in record numbers

Barack Obama's resounding election victory in the U.S. presidential election was fuelled by Americans going to the polls in record numbers, with 136.6 million votes cast.

Barack Obama's resounding election victory in the U.S. presidential election was fuelled by Americans going to the polls in record numbers, with as many as 136.6 million votes cast.

People wait in line to vote on election day in Washington. ((Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press))

Preliminary projections based on 88 per cent of precincts tallied by early Wednesday and allowance for absentee ballots suggested that 14.2 million more Americans voted Tuesday than the previous numerical record of 122.3 million, set in the 2004 election.

Final numbers won't be in until early Thursday.

"There's just no question, records are being set," the CBC's Henry Champ reported from Washington, D.C., before the election was decided Tuesday night.

"People are talking actually about not only the highest percentage vote of the population, but the highest numerical vote as well."

Obama, a 47-year-old African-American senator from Illinois, made history on Tuesday with a victory over his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

The win came as an estimated 64.1 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots — reportedly the best turnout rate in at least 44 years, depending on how the figure is measured.

The historic record turnout in percentage terms was 65.7 per cent, back in 1908, when William Howard Taft triumphed over William Jennings Bryan.

By comparison, only 59.1 per cent of eligible Canadians turned out to vote in their Oct. 14 federal election. 

Turnout, registration both up in U.S.

Tales of record-setting turnout levels were emerging early Wednesday in Los Angeles and Dallas, while other stories of lineups at polling stations across the country supported the prediction that this election would attract the one of the greatest number of voters in U.S. history.

In Virginia and California, the state with the most electoral votes, turnout rates were expected to fly as high as 80 per cent. Across the U.S., voter registration numbers were up 7.3 per cent from the 2004 presidential election.

"People are very anxious to be voting," said Sen. Benjamin Cardin as he visited a polling station at a Maryland school. "They really think they are part of history, and they are."

Early turnout numbers showed the 2008 election to be about equal to or better than 1964, but not higher than 1960, which featured the famous battle between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, and was the post-World War II high.

Lineups, glitches reported

Inundated with swelling tides of voters eager to cast their votes, some polling stations were faced with hours-long lineups and voting-machine malfunctions.

In the first major election day hiccup, some voting machines in Richmond, Va., appeared to be recording a different choice than the one made by the voter, said Champ.

The problem prompted polling stations in Richmond to switch to paper ballots.

It wasn't immediately clear how the conundrums were received by the overwhelming numbers of voters.

Donald Walker, left, and Marguerite Thayer verify a duplicate ballot Tuesday as they work on mail-in ballots at the County elections headquarters in Renton, Wash. ((John Froschauer/Associated Press))

"I got here at 4:30 this morning and already 20 people were in line, and by 6 a.m., when the poll opened, there were about 200 people," said a Democratic party lawyer who volunteered to monitor a polling station in Spotsylvania, Va.

By 2 p.m., she said, 1,500 people had voted and hundreds more were expected between the busiest hours of 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. In the 2004 election, a total of 1,900 people cast ballots at the same polling station.

"It's huge," said the lawyer, who didn't want to be identified. "This kind of turnout is very unusual."

Similar glitches with voting machines forced polling stations to use paper ballots in New Jersey and Florida.

But concerns with machines and voting practices appear to be few and far between, said Champ.

"Generally speaking, aside from the volume of people, [there's] not too much complaint about what's going on."

System 'not ready'

Record numbers of voters who cast ballots in Texas before election day were credited with easing turnout on Tuesday. Others were not so fortunate and may be unintentionally punished by the high number of voters.

"We have a system that wasn't ready for huge turnout," said Tova Wang of the government watchdog group Common Cause. "People have to wait for hours. Some people can do that. Some people can't. This is not the way to run a democracy."

In Pennsylvania, a judge dismissed a lawsuit by NAACP lawyers that sought to force Philadelphia County elections officials to count emergency paper ballots when the polls closed at 8 p.m. EST. Election officials said they plan to count the ballots Friday.

With files from the Associated Press and Reuters