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US Elections: Voters turn out in force for Obama-Romney finale

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LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Voters turned out in force for Tuesday’s US election, in many cases lining up for hours to have the last word in the hard-fought race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

Freezing temperatures in the northeast, light drizzle in Chicago and the threat of thunderstorms in Florida did little to deter citizens from casting their ballots.

In north Hollywood, California, a mariachi band walked the streets of Van Nuys, rallying the Latino vote for president Obama with popular tunes like “La Bikina” and a banner that read: “For our American dream.”

“There are a lot of people who don’t have the privilege to vote,” said secretary Elizabeth Perez, 37.

“It is our responsibility to our people.”

Her parents came to the United States from Mexico, and she was referring to the nation’s 11.5 million undocumented immigrants.

“Latinos now are the biggest minority. We have to put our people in office for our voices to be heard,” said Ana Frausto, coordinator of the Hispanic advocacy group CHIRLA, which organized the mariachi wake-up call.

In Oakland, across the bay from famously liberal San Francisco, 56-year-old Tommy Jones waited 10 minutes to vote at a Baptist church, only to find the line twice as long when he exited.

“As a black man, it is as important to vote this time as at any time,” Jones told AFP as a woman stepped out of the church, pumped her fist and softly chanted: “Obama.”

In the president’s adopted hometown Chicago, supporters boldly predicted his re-election, even if opinion polls in the run-up to Tuesday pointed to a nail-biting photo finish between the incumbent and his Republican rival.

“Are you kidding? Obama,” said retiree Tim Glisson, 57, when asked who he picked. “I voted for him because of his character, his fairness — just doing the right thing.”

Sandra Rendrich, 64, echoed: “First off, I’m never in my life going to be a Republican.

“Second, I don’t think any president can get done what he needs to get done in four years.”

Besides, she said: “He’s the funniest president we’ve ever had.”

In Miami, however, 72-year-old Ruben Salazar, a Cuban-American who was among the early voters in Florida’s biggest city, said it was time for change in the White House.

“I need a job for my wife, for my daughter, a better future for my grandsons,” he said. “That’s why I’ll vote for Romney.”

The United States has no central election authority, but state and local officials tasked with electoral logistics reported a strong turnout in many parts of the country.

So did an unaffiliated group supporting Romney’s vice presidential running mate Paul Ryan — “The Campaign to Defeat Obama” — in a mid-day fundraising email.

“Polling location analysis indicates there is heavy Democrat turnout so far today,” it said. “We have to counteract this with a late surge of Republican and conservative Independent turnout.”

Florida’s Secretary of State Ken Detzner said turnout in his state — one of the battlegrounds where local results could swing the national outcome — could be “record-setting.”

“We’re excited on both sides,” said Caitrin McCarron, a Republican supporter in Arlington, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington, where lines formed at polling stations before the crack of dawn.

In New Jersey, still reeling from superstorm Sandy that left thousands suddenly homeless last week, large numbers of voters waited in line impatiently amid rubble and rotting rubbish.

In the city of Hoboken, across the Hudson River from New York City, one makeshift polling station was 40 minutes late in opening, drawing complaints from the 60 or so people in line.

“Please excuse the appearance of this place,” a poll worker told the crowd. “Two days ago, it was under two feet (60 centimeters) of water.”

Voters in the critical state of Ohio wrestled with unusually long ballot papers because they were also voting for changes to the state constitution.

“I think that if you had not done some homework, it was very confusing,” said Annie Hamilton, a Democrat in University Heights, outside Cleveland.

Online, many Americans used Twitter to post photos of themselves voting, and FourSquare to pinpoint where they did so. Google re-doodled its homepage logo to help users locate their nearest polling station.

Some voters went so far as to post Instagrams of their ballot papers — something that, in some states, could be deemed illegal.

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