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Polls Open in Hotly-Contested US Presidential Election

Voting booths have opened across the United States, as tens of millions of Americans cast their ballots in a fiercely-contested presidential election. Opinion polls on the eve of Election Day showed the nation evenly split between Republican President Bush and his Democratic challenger, Senator John Kerry.

Interest this year is especially high, as experts predict a near-record turnout, or more than 120 million voters across the country.

Both President Bush and Senator Kerry spent the days before Election Day making multiple campaign stops in several states. Their focus was on so-called battleground states, where the election is particularly close.

Early Tuesday, President Bush, his wife and their daughters cast their ballots at a regular polling place near their home in Texas. Afterwards, the president spoke with reporters.

"I trust the judgment of the American people," he said. "I love our democracy and I have got great faith in the wisdom of the people of this country."

The president makes a last campaign stop in Ohio, before heading back to the White House to watch the election results.

In a departure from tradition, and a reflection of how close the election is, both candidates are continuing to campaign on election day.

Senator Kerry spent the night in the battleground state of Wisconsin in the midwest, and in the morning he personally distributed information packets to campaign workers. Both parties have launched massive efforts to get their supporters to the polls in the coming hours.

"It's that magic moment when the greatest democracy on the face of the planet gets to show the world how we work. And together we're going to change the direction of this country," commented Mr. Kerry.

The VOA reporter with the Kerry campaign described the senator as 'relaxed' on Tuesday. The Democratic presidential candidate joked with reporters and posed for pictures before boarding his plane for the flight to Boston, where he will vote in the afternoon.

Both candidates are expressing confidence they will win. But in another indication of just how close the vote is expected to be, the Democratic Vice-Presidential Candidate John Edwards declined to make a firm prediction during an appearance on the NBC television program, the Today Show.

"In all honesty, I do not think it is possible to predict what is going to happen," he said. "I think we are going to see unprecedented turnout. I think we are going to see huge voter participation. And when that happens, democracy works. So, we feel very confident and optimistic."

Early voters lined up at polling stations across the country. At a polling station at the Lincoln Baptist Church in Columbus, Ohio, voter Harriet Robinson said she was impressed with what she saw.

"It was very electrifying because a lot of folks came out to vote," said Ms. Robinson. "Normally, when I come out here to vote, there are like three or four people in line. So, it is very good to see the turnout."

Another Ohio voter, Rich Brigga, said the voting process went smoothly.

"The ballots and everything appeared to be well-organized and everything, so it was a good layout of the voting," said Rich Brigga.

Long lines are reported, not only in Ohio, but at many polling stations around the country.

Pre-election public-opinion polls indicate Americans are evenly divided in their support for the two candidates, based on a host of issues, including Iraq, the economy, social issues and security.