RALEIGH, N.C. — Polls closed throughout the Triangle area Tuesday night after a heavy day of voting that saw long lines at some points, but few problems at the polls.
Early turnout signaled a surge in voting throughout the day in North Carolina's election for president, U.S. Senate, governor and other top offices, as well as local races.
Election workers greeted long lines of voters at polling places across the state. In some areas, the lines got shorter after the initial surge of people voting before work and there was steady voting without lines.
Throughout the day on Tuesday, the lines moderated. By late afternoon and evening, lines were short in most areas.
However, voters at a polling place in Holly Springs faced a three-hour wait as the polls closed on Tuesday night after problems with voting earlier in the day led to a backup. It was unclear which of three polling places in Holly Springs was affected, according to Louise Romanow, an official with the League of Women Voters, who was working at the Wake County Board of Elections Tuesday night.
But, at most spots early in the day, waits ranged from an hour to an hour and a half, compared to the two- to four-hour wait during early voting.
"We have been warning people to bring their patience, and election officials to also be patient and people to remember their manners," said Gary Bartlett of the state Board of Elections. "This is fundamental democracy at work."
Long lines of voters were at some precincts before dawn when election officials arrived to open the polls. After voting started at 6:30 a.m., long lines snaked out of a Durham school and across the street and voters at a Raleigh precinct stood in line along the sidewalk.
With record turnout possible and at least 21 federal, state and local offices and referenda on every ballot, a lot is on the line this Election Day in North Carolina.
More new voters registered than ever before for this election, which has helped turnout.
"If you don't vote, you don't really have a say-so in what you want to happen," said Marcus Alexander, a first-time voter. "You can't talk cause you didn't vote."
Bartlett said despite the large turnout, things are going smoothly.
"The only thing we're hearing are routine complaints," Bartlett said. "There's not been any major complaints and hopefully we're not jinxing ourselves by saying that. We hope it will continue to be a good day for voters and election officials."
Voters will pick a governor and a U.S. senator and decide whether President George W. Bush or John Kerry should get the state's 15 electoral votes.
More than 1 million people already had cast their ballots before polls statewide opened Tuesday morning. Nearly 984,000 of them voted in person during the early voting period that ended Saturday -- more than double the amount when early voting was first held four years ago.
Bartlett predicted that from 65 to 68 percent of the 5.5 million registered voters in North Carolina would vote at 2,800 statewide precincts by the time polls close at 7:30 p.m. The modern record turnout in North Carolina was 68 percent in 1984, when former Gov. Jim Hunt challenged then-U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms.
Sixty percent of voters cast ballots in 2000.
Ferrel Guillory, director of the Program on Southern Politics, Media and Public Life at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, noted that long lines for early voting "equate to a lot of people for too few machines" -- not necessarily high overall turnout for the election.
Regardless, he said, "there is a message out of this: there's a customer demand for early voting."