The ballot count is underway in a crucial primary election in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. Voters chose between two candidates for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination: Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. VOA's Paula Wolfson visited polling places in the Pittsburgh area and surveyed the views of the electorate.
Most agree they have never quite seen anything like it.
Pennsylvania traditionally holds its primary late, and for years it has been an afterthought in the selection process.
But election officials say this year is different. Two candidates are still battling hard for the Democratic nomination, voter registration is way up, and a high turnout is expected.
At a polling place in the Pittsburgh suburbs, a neighborhood election official named Al surveys the Election Day scene and smiles. "I haven't seen this much excitement since I started voting in 1960 for Jack Kennedy," the official said.
Turnout has been steady across the state, with a big jump in participation in the late hours before the polls close.
The mood is serious, with voters well aware that this year their ballots really count.
Elizabeth, a high school English teacher, says she voted for Barack Obama. "A lot of people talk about how eloquently he speaks. A lot of people say he doesn't have substance. But every time I have listened to him speak, I hear a lot of substantive issues being discussed in an intelligent and familiar way," she said.
Republicans are also holding a separate party primary in Pennsylvania. They already have a presumptive presidential nominee in John McCain. But Greg, a party member, says he took his Republican ballot and wrote in Senator Obama's name, even though his vote will not count in the Democrats-only tally. "I just wanted my voice to be heard. That was who I wanted to represent today. So that is why I wanted to make sure I came here," he said.
Younger voters, like Elizabeth and Greg, form the core of Barack Obama's support in Pennsylvania. They embrace his message of change. But senior citizens appear more interested in experience and stability. And all indications are, they are backing Hillary Clinton.
After casting her ballot, an elderly woman named Joan leans slightly on a cane and explains her vote for Senator Clinton. "She is articulate in getting her point across and her points, I like," she said.
She says she is voting not just on the basis of issues that concern senior citizens, but those that will affect her children and grandchildren as well.
As she emerges from the polls, a young mother is also focusing on the future, as she holds onto the hand of her young daughter. Dawn says she was unsure about her vote until the last minute. She says she listened to her gut feelings and the advice of her seven-year-old child. "I voted for Barack and then when I went to cast my ballot I went back and voted for Hillary," she said.
Her daughter, Flynn, squints in the springtime sun, and volunteers her own take on the campaign. "I thought that when I was watching Hillary in the debate, I thought that Hillary was really going to win."
Voters in Pennsylvania know in the end their choice will be historic, and for the first time a major political party will nominate either a woman or an African-American for the presidency. Dawn says she wants her daughter to experience it all and know that anything is possible, noting Flynn has already decided that some day she might just want to be the president of the United States.