Decision is in voters' hands

— -- Americans go to the polls today to make a historic selection, either the first African-American president or the oldest first-term occupant of the White House and his female vice president.

Long lines were reported at polls across the East as the first polling places opened Tuesday. Television news networks were reporting long waits at some polling places in New York, Washington and Richmond, Va., among other cities. With millions of new voters registered and early voting at an all-time high, election officials across the country were predicting a high turnout.

Republican John McCain and his runningmate, Sarah Palin, made frenetic final dashes across several crucial states where the winner could be decided, working for a poll-defying upset. Democrat Barack Obama, ahead in many national polls, kept a more leisurely campaign pace.

"My attitude is, if we've done everything we can do, then it's up to the people to decide," Obama told a radio interviewer.

McCain sounded more like the underdog. "Don't give up hope. Be strong," he told crowds. "Nothing is inevitable here."

Obama announced the death of his grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, after a battle with cancer. He had interrupted campaigning last month to visit her. In a statement with his sister, Obama said, "She was cornerstone of our family, and a woman of extraordinary accomplishment, strength and humility."

Besides deciding control of the White House, voters in 33 states were electing 35 U.S. senators, with Democrats bidding to build on their fragile 51-49 voting majority. Much of the fight was on GOP turf — 23 of the seats at stake are held by Republicans, and five of those have no incumbent running; 12 are held by Democrats.

All 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are up. Democrats were confident of increasing their 235-199 majority.

Eleven states are selecting governors, with particularly tight races in North Carolina and Washington for seats now held by Democrats. Republicans were hoping to trim the Democrats' 28-22 edge in governors.

Voters were deciding 153 ballot measures in 36 states. Among them: a ban on same-sex marriage in California and a ban on most abortions in South Dakota.

Warned of record turnout, perhaps as many as 135 million voters, many took advantage of state laws that permit early voting. More than 29 million Americans cast early ballots, according to the U.S. Elections Project at George Mason University.

The top concern among election officials is a heavy turnout overwhelming some polling places — particularly in states without provisions for in-person early voting, such as Pennsylvania.

In North Carolina, where Obama was hoping to become the first Democratic nominee to carry the state since 1976, 2.6 million early ballots were cast. In Ohio, a battleground McCain was fighting to hold, 1.5 million early ballots were cast, more than twice as many as in 2004.