-- Long lines and malfunctioning machines greeted election officials on Tuesday as polls across the country were deluged by people wanting to vote in this historic race between black Democratic candidate Barack Obama and Republican John McCain.
Voters turned out in droves as polls opened early along the Eastern Seaboard and Mid-Atlantic states.
Some early problems surfaced with some electronic machines not working and election officials reporting paper jams on other machines.
In some states, voters began lining up as early as 4 a.m. to avoid long lines. Vehicular traffic was light in many cities as workers either took the day off or planned to report to their jobs late so they could cast their votes.
In New Jersey, many voters needed to use paper ballots because of problems with electronic voting machines. And in New York, Board of Elections spokeswoman Valerie Vazquez-Rivera said many people began lining up as early as 4 a.m. at some polling places to avoid long lines, leading to erroneous reports that some sites were not opening on time.
Poll worker John Ritch in Chappaqua, N.Y., said: "By 7:30 this morning, we had as many as we had at noon in 2004."
Gov. Ed Rendell urged voters in Pennsylvania to "hang in there" as state and country officials braced for a huge turnout.
More than 160 people were lined up to vote by the time polls opened at First Presbyterian Church in Allentown.
"I could stay an hour and a half at the front end or three hours at the back end," joked Ronald Marshall, a Democrat.
In several counties surrounding Virginia's capital city of Richmond, voters and elections officials reported paper jams on some machines and balky touch-screen machines in some localities had local registrars considering paper ballots.
The nonpartisan Election Protection Coalition said it is going to call on Virginia officials to extend the state's voting hours by two hours because of hundreds of reports it has received about long lines and problems at the polls. Virginia's polls are set to close at 7 p.m. ET.
At one precinct in Richmond, hundreds of people encircled a branch library by 6 a.m., the scheduled opening of the polls.
But the line grew for another 25 minutes before the poll workers opened the doors. They said the librarian who had a key to the polling place had overslept.
Despite the delay under a steady drizzle, voters cheered as the doors opened at 6:25 a.m.
In Chesapeake, Va., approximately 1,000 voters stood in line to vote, and some people reported malfunctioning machines.
Ahmed Bowling of Alexandria, Va., standing in line to vote, said the election "will mark a significant change in the lives of all Americans, and so we do have to come out as early as possible to cast our votes."
A steady stream of voters turned out across North Carolina despite steady rain, but lines appeared under control and few problems were reported in a state where upwards of 40% of the electorate cast early ballots before election day.
Many Democrats said they were confident that Obama would emerge as the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry North Carolina since President Jimmy Carter of Georgia won the state in 1976.
About 52% of people who voted early were registered Democrats; 30% were Republicans.
Wallace Young, 49, an attorney and lifelong Republican who has never before voted Democrat in a presidential race, said his dissatisfaction with President Bush is a big reason why he'll vote for Obama this time.
"I have come to despise George Bush," Young said. "I'm a Republican, but I feel like real change needs to come to Washington. I feel like (Sen. John) McCain has had his day under the sun. He's served his country. But he's at the age where he needs to sit back and let someone younger take the helm."
Despite Obama's apparent strength in the state, some Republicans remain confident of a McCain victory.
In Rich's Roffler Style Shop, owner Austin Rich, 78, who's been cutting hair for more than 50 years in Cary, N.C., a suburb of Raleigh, believes that McCain's support is understated in polls.
"A lot of people aren't telling what they're doing (and) I still believe the average person in this state is more conservative" than the polls indicate, Rich said.
In Brooklyn, N.Y., 49-year-old Venus Kevin said the line at her precinct was "already down the block and around the corner" when she arrived shortly before 6 a.m. ET.
"Obama is the man," said Kevin, who is black. "His message and his vision has reached a lot of people, not just African-Americans."
Hundreds converged on polling precincts in Missouri, a crucial battleground state.
Norma Storms, a 78-year-old resident of Raytown, said her driveway was filled with cars left by voters who couldn't get into nearby parking lots."I have never seen anything like this in all my born days," she said. "I am just astounded."
In Chicago, where the weather was expected to be in the 70s, about 45 people lined up at a church on South Wabash Avenue.
Polly Mathews, 72, was waiting in a wheelchair for polls to open. "I'm part of history," said the retired bookkeeper and Democrat who voted for John Kerry in 2004. "I'm going to help give this country an African-American president."
Jim Price, 57, lined up after working a night shift at a metal fabricating plant. "I don't know if I've ever had a prouder day," said the African-American voter. "My granddad's dreams of real equality for blacks are coming true today."
In Michigan, long lines began forming across metro Detroit polling places even before the polls opened at 7 a.m. At the Coleman A. Young Recreation Center, Detroit's largest voting precinct where 57% of residents voted in 2004, about 100 people were waiting in line by 6 a.m. when poll workers arrived, said Deindre Burnett, a precinct monitor for the city clerk's office.
Marzetta Miles, 52, brought a fold-up bench so she could sit through the two-hour wait, but she said there was so much excitement on the line, she didn't even use it. A manager with an auto supply store, Miles is voting for Obama and brought her 21-year-old son to vote in his first presidential election.
"I'm excited," she said. "I couldn't sleep. My stomach was a little upset. I just want to get it over with."
Hester Wheeler, executive director of the NAACP Detroit branch, said other than scattered reports of broken voting machines no major problems have been reported so far in Detroit.
City Clerk Janice Winfrey said she expected more than 60% of the city's 632,000 registered voters to vote. The city hired more than 2,500 additional workers to man the polls, printed additional ballots and bought 2,000 additional voting booths to prepare for Tuesday's expected turnout, said Daniel Baxter, director of the city's Department of Elections.
Contributing: Peter Eisler in North Carolina; Martha Moore in New York; Judy Keen in Chicago; Marisol Bello in Detroit; Carolyn Pesce in McLean, Va.; the Associated Press