Lines are building at many polling places across the Carolinas on Tuesday evening, in the final minutes of voting in both states.
The polls are scheduled to close at 7 p.m. in South Carolina and at 7:30 p.m. in North Carolina.
A check of several precincts between 6 and 6:30 p.m. Tuesday showed that lines, which had been short for much of the day after an early-morning rush, had increased.
I think were getting all the last-minute voters now, a poll worker at Crown Point Elementary School in Matthews said. It was very busy when we opened, and then it got quiet -- steady but not too much -- for the rest of the day.
Anyone in line when polls close will be able to cast a ballot.
The big draw for voters is the presidential race between Democratic incumbent Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, with Libertarian Gary Johnson and other third-party candidates on the ballot. But voters also are choosing candidates for a host of other federal, state and local races, from North Carolinas next governor to soil and water conservation commissioner.
Elections officials in Mecklenburg County and other areas say theyre expected a big turnout this year. The state elections director estimates some 70 percent of registered voters could cast a ballot, including the 2.5 million of people who used early voting this year.
Mecklenburg officials also expect up to 70 percent of the countys 670,000 registered voters will cast ballots.
Meanwhile, more than half of Lincoln Countys registered voters had already voted as of 2 p.m. Tuesday, including those who voted early, according to the elections director. A precinct judge in Pumpkin Center said some voters were waiting outside their polling site before doors opened at 6:30 a.m. the first time hes seen a line that early.
This is the Super Bowl for us, said Adam Ragan, elections director in Gaston County. Its what weve been planning for many months.
SOME REPORTS OF PROBLEMS
Mecklenburg elections officials have reported no major problems from precincts on Tuesday.
And a check of several precincts indicated voters were casting ballots without any troubles.
But there were scattered reports of problems.
A voter at Holy Covenant Church on Sharon Road reported a machine problem. While reviewing his ballot before confirming his vote, Ann Bryant said her husband, Wayne, noticed his straight-party votes had been switched to the other party. A supervisor watched as her husband tried two more times, but she said, It switched all of his votes from one party to another.
Ann Bryant said the supervisor then brought up a different screen in the same machine, which recorded the vote properly. But she wondered if other voters who had used the machine before 9:20 a.m. had their votes switched unknowingly.
Kristin Mavromatis, a spokeswoman for the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections, said a technician was sent to the precinct to re-calibrate the machine. As a precaution, we re-calibrate, Mavromatis said.
A few calibration problems were reported during early voting, said Michael Dickerson, director of the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections. Dickerson said calibration complaints are taken seriously. He encouraged voters to review their ballots carefully, and to report any problems to poll workers.
In York, S.C., voter Peggy Mitchell said a poll worker at the Philadelphia United Methodist precinct incorrectly told voters in line that they need two forms of identification -- a voter registration card, and a photo ID. South Carolinas new photo ID law does not take effect until Jan. 1, though.
Once voters got to the table, Mitchell said, workers correctly verified only one form of identification. She said she wonders if some voters got out of line, thinking they needed more documents.
An email to the York County Registration and Elections Office was not immediately returned.
Martha Browne of south Charlotte said the three voting members of her family had three different types of problems. She said she did early voting Oct. 19, and the machine registered the wrong party for her vote. She was certain to make sure the machine registered her vote properly before leaving.
Her daughter, a student of the University of Alabama, had trouble getting an absentee ballot from Mecklenburg County. After several calls, Browne said, My daughter gave up and voted in Alabama.
Then Brownes husband voted Tuesday and was told he had voted early. He hadnt, his wife said. They let him cast a provisional ballot.
Long-distance trucker Chuck Bouldin, 51, drove from Baton Rouge, La., to Charlotte on Monday so he could vote Tuesday for Obama.
I came up to vote, do my duty, and then get back to work, Bouldin said at the McCrorey Family YMCA (Precinct 210) on Beatties Ford Road.
However, Bouldin and Benjamin Davis, 22, each arrived at the YMCA about 10:30 a.m. to find it wasnt their designated precinct -- even though it was close to their homes. They left to find their correct precinct locations.
Somerwell Vargnese, 42, emigrated to the United States in 1996 and voted Tuesday in his second presidential election, with his two young children in tow. He said he considered early voting but decided to wait until Election Day, because he enjoys the excitement.
I like to get that feeling, Vargnese said. As a nation, we have authority and power to choose our leaders ... Were a nation by the people, for the people.
There was no wait to vote at the McCrorey YMCA, which was a welcome change from the voting experience in India, Vargnese said.
In my (native) country, wed get in line at 5 a.m. and wait for four hours, he said.
In east Charlotte, at Cokesbury United Methodist Church (Precinct 130) on Idlewild Road, 30-year-old Eric Argabrite voted around midday.
The presidential race is the main thing that brought me out, said Argabrite, who declined to say who he voted for. I vote every election, though.
He said he anticipated watching the results Tuesday night but added, I dont know if well learn who the winner is tonight. With the way Ohio counts absentee ballots, it might take a while.
It wasnt always the high-profile races that attracted voters.
At the Indian Trail Public Library in Union County, a man identifying himself only as Brian said he voted for a lot of reasons but said, The parks issue is big for me. Its a terrible idea, and I wanted to vote against it.
Voters in Indian Trail are deciding on a controversial $8.5 million package to build a park on Matthews-Indian Trail Road. A woman nearby said quietly after Brian walked away, I like the park. I guess I canceled out his vote.
From reports received around the region, it appears as if long lines formed when the polls opened. But by 8:15 a.m., many precincts were reporting little or no waiting time.
One voter told the Observer she arrived at 8:05 a.m. at Crown Point Elementary School in Matthews (Precinct 216) and found absolutely no line. She voted and left by 8:20 a.m. At Forest Hill Church (Precinct 76) on Park Road, only a handful of voters were in line at 9 a.m.
It was a different story earlier.
Some voters were ready when the polls opened. About 15 people were standing outside Amity Presbyterian Church on Sharon Amity Road shortly before 6 a.m., and more than 20 people were waiting at Randolph Middle School a short time later.
About 75 people stood in line around 6 a.m. at the Scottish Rites Masonic Lodge (Precinct 47) on Randolph Road in southeast Charlotte.
At Candlewood Baptist Church (Precinct 100) in south Charlotte, long lines wrapped around the back of the voting booths. That enabled people waiting in line to see who people were voting for. One voters told a poll worker he was uncomfortable and said it seemed like an invasion of privacy. A poll worker told the man she was doing the best she could.
At the Varick Renaissance Center polling site in Derita, voters in line were given palm-sized flyers labeled Straight-Party Voting: Important Voting Instructions. The handout reminded voters that they must vote for President/Vice President separately from the other offices.
A straight-party vote does not include the office of President/Vice President or any nonpartisan race or issue ... the handout said. Nonpartisan offices and issues also must be voted separately.
Voters began lining up at least a half-hour before the polling place opened at 6:30 a.m.
Also, there was some initial confusion in line when voters were told to line up by their last name, behind lightly written cards marked A-C etc. Some people, confused because they couldnt see the cards, stood in the wrong place, then had to switch lines once they got up to the table with the registration books. About 40 minutes later, though, the lines seemed more orderly. One voter reported arriving at 6:06 a.m. and was out by 6:52 a.m.
In eastern Lincoln County, the polling place for the Westport area changed this year from Fairfield Forest United Methodist Church to St. Peters Episcopal Church -- on the same road but at a different end of the street. One voter noted seeing two cars parked at Fairfield Forest United Methodist this morning. The voter said she stopped and told the people that the polling place had been moved.
As best I could tell, there was not a sign on the door, directing voters to the new polling location, said the voter, who noted that residents had been notified by mail of the change.
North Carolina elections supervisor Gary Bartlett says he expects up to 70 percent of the states registered voters to cast ballots, whether on Election Day or in the early voting period. A turnout of 60 percent is predicted in South Carolina.
The weather is less than spectacular.
Clouds and chilly temperatures are predicted for most of the Carolinas, and rain is falling in parts of the Carolinas. The heaviest rain will fall across South Carolina and eastern North Carolina, but a few showers were being reported at daybreak north of Charlotte.
SECOND CHANCE, OR NOT?
Once laid-off, a Raleigh-area voter said Tuesday that President Obama deserves a second chance to turn things around.
At the Wake County Firearms Education and Training Center in Apex, voters lined up along a hallway dominated by posters offering National Rifle Association classes and ladies handgun leagues.
As Jerome Gantt signed in at the registration table, a target stared back at him from the wall beyond.
Gantt, 34, an African American independent, told the Associated Press he voted for Republican John McCain four years ago, but not because he did not like Obama.
I honestly didnt want a black man to be the first president coming into that bad a situation, Gantt, who works for a pharmaceutical company, told the AP. He said he is far from happy with how the last four years turned out. He and his wife, Paquita, were laid off within months of each other.
But they are back at work, he told the AP, and added, I dont think four years is enough time really to turn anything around.
Pat Crosswhite, a 55-year-old woman from Holly Springs, couldnt disagree more. She said Obama, if re-elected, should be impeached over his handling of the consulate attack in Libya.
I think what he started is terrible, Crosswhite, who does voice-overs for television commercials, told the Associated Press. I dont want him to finish it.
VOLUNTEERS STILL BUSY
Volunteers from both the Democratic and Republican parties will be out in force today, making sure voters get to the polls.
Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx met with Democratic volunteers at 9 a.m. at the partys office on West Boulevard. GOP officials say thousands of volunteers across the state will be knocking on doors and making phone calls to registered Republicans, encouraging them to vote if they havent done so already.
The race for President, with Democrat Barack Obama seeking a second term with opposition from Republican Mitt Romney and other lesser candidates, is grabbing the biggest attention.
North Carolina, with 15 electoral votes, has been a toss-up state throughout the campaign. Public Policy Pollings most recent survey showed the race nearly even, and Tom Jensen of the PPP says North Carolina and Florida are the only states that are too close to call.
South Carolinas nine electoral votes are expected to go to Romney.
But North Carolina voters also are electing a Governor, with former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, a Republican, favored over Democrat Walter Dalton. Also running is Libertarian Barbara Howe. Most polls show McCrory with a lead of 5 to 8 percentage points, although the race has tightened in the past week.
N.C. voters also are electing a lieutenant governor and other officers of state.
Also up for grabs are the 20 U.S. House seats in the Carolinas. Among the most hotly contested are two races in the Charlotte area -- North Carolinas 8th and 9th District races.
In the 8th District, incumbent Democrat Larry Kissell faces a challenge from Republican Richard Hudson. Kissell, who has differed with the Obama administration on some issues, faces the added problem of running in a district that has a higher percentage of Republican voters than in 2010.
The 9th District congressional seat is being vacated by the GOPs Sue Myrick, who is retiring. Republican Robert Pittenger, a state senator, is favored in his race against Democrat Jennifer Roberts, a Mecklenburg County commissioner. Also in the race is Libertarian Curtis Campbell.
Observer staff members Joe DePriest, Davie Hinshaw, Elaine Jacobs and Kathleen Purvis and the Associated Press contributed
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