Motivated by the closeness of the race and the chasm in the views of the candidates, voters in Maryland and across the country packed polling places in apparent record numbers yesterday to choose between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry.
Voters waited patiently in long lines not only in the half-dozen battleground states that would decide a contest polls put at a dead-heat, but also in states such as Maryland and North Carolina that were firmly in one camp or the other.
In Florida and Ohio, a pair of states critical to the outcome, polls in some precincts stayed open hours after their scheduled closing times to accommodate voters already in line.
In key states that saw huge get-out-the-vote efforts, turnout in some precincts by mid-afternoon had approached or exceeded that of the 2000 presidential race.
In Pennsylvania, a top state Democratic Party official said turnout by early afternoon had surpassed 2000 levels in a half-dozen precincts in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
"I think we're on the way to a record turnout," Don Morabito, executive director of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, said yesterday afternoon. "To be fair, turnout is up in Republican areas, too."
Indeed, in GOP-leaning North Anville Township, more than a third of the 1,400 registered voters had cast their ballots by noon, and 70 percent had voted by about 6 p.m.
"It's just the hotly contested race between the president and Sen. Kerry," said election judge Kathy Meyer, explaining the heavy turnout.
In Maryland, voters around the state lined up before the polls opened at 7 a.m. - and there were waits of up to two hours at some polling places in Baltimore.
Maryland elections officials said last night that the state was on track to reach a turnout of 80 percent of the state's 3.1 million registered voters, once provisional and absentee ballots are counted.
That's roughly equal to the highest turnout in the last quarter-century: the 81 percent in the 1992 presidential election, when Bill Clinton unseated Bush's father, George H.W. Bush. But the number of voters who cast ballots could be a half-million higher than in that year or in 2000.
Nationally, analysts were predicting a total of as many as 120 million voters, the highest number in history and an increase of about 15 million from 2000.
That turnout figure would equal about 60 percent of the country's eligible voters. Sixty-five percent of eligible voters voted in 1960.
In 2000, 54 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. The 105 million votes cast equaled just over half of the total U.S. voting-age population.
"I expect turnout to increase in every state in the country and to set a record in Florida," Curtis Gans, director of the nonpartisan Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, said before the election.
Exit polls yesterday suggested that one in 10 of those who went to the polls were first-time voters, and about 10 percent were young voters, about the same percentage as four years ago.
Among the young voters was Morgan State University junior Rodney Nesbitt, who voted near his home in Randallstown and then worked at a polling place in Baltimore - but not before urging more than a dozen of his friends to go to the polls.
"I don't like the way things are going. I want to make a change," said Nesbitt, 20, who wore a "Vote or Die" T-shirt.
Voters who showed up early at the polls had plenty of company.
When the precinct doors opened at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center in Columbia at 7:01 a.m., Neil Gordon, 63, had been waiting for one hour in the dawn chill - and there were 72 people lined up behind him.
"I usually vote early, but this is unprecedented," said Gordon.
In the critical state of Ohio, rain did not dampen the determination of voters.
In Columbus, many voters stood in line for two or three hours, and election officials scrambled to bring in extra voting booths.
"It's crazy, man. The line has been wrapped around the building all morning," said Rodney Edwards, 39, who voted at Minerva Park United Methodist Church.
Sun staff writers Kelly Brewington from Florida, Michael Dresser from Wisconsin, Jennifer McMenamin from Pennsylvania, Childs Walker from Ohio and Larry Carson, Liz Kay and William Wan contributed to this article.