WASHINGTON, Nov 8, (AFP): America’s future hung in the balance Tuesday as millions of eager voters cast ballots to elect Democrat Hillary Clinton as their first woman president, or hand power to the billionaire populist Donald Trump. As the world held its collective breath, Americans were called to make a historic choice between two radically different visions for the most powerful nation on Earth.
While Clinton has a slim lead in polls, no one was ruling out a victory by her Republican rival Trump — with the winner’s name not expected to be known before 0300 GMT Wednesday. By 1700 GMT voting was underway in all 50 states and the capital Washington. In Virginia horse country, balmy south Florida, and busy Manhattan long lines snaked into the streets outside polling stations. “I’m excited. I can’t believe I finally get to vote,” said Jose Maria Molleda, 63, a new US citizen casting his ballot at a Presbyterian church in Clifton, Virginia, where a crowd of 150 gathered before dawn for the opening of polls in the swing state.
Katie Kope, another firsttime voter in Staten Island, New York, was jubilant after casting her ballot for Trump and his promise to reclaim power from a corrupt Washington elite. “I was kind of torn between the two but I don’t trust Hillary, so that’s what it came down to,” said the 19-year-old.
An hour’s drive north, a crowd of admirers chanted “Madam President” as Clinton and husband Bill voted near their home in Chappaqua. “I’m so happy, I’m just incredibly happy,” a beaming Clinton said as she emerged, shaking hands, mingling and chatting with the crowd. “I know how much responsibility goes with this,” said the 69-year-old former secretary of state. “So many people are counting on the outcome of this election, what it means for our country, and I’ll do the very best I can if I’m fortunate enough to win today.” A few hours later it was Trump who rolled up to his voting station in Manhattan, casting his ballot alongside wife Melania in a school gymnasium. “Right now it’s looking very good,” he told reporters — paying no heed to the crowd of protesters who welcomed him with chants of “New York hates you!”
A polling average by tracker site RealClearPolitics gave Clinton a 3.3-percentage point national lead, but Trump is closer or even has the advantage in several of the swing states that he must conquer to pull off an upset. In must-win Florida, Clinton was already assured of the vote of 74-yearold Leonor Perez, who cast her ballot in the Cuban enclave of Hialeah near Miami. “I voted for Hillary because it’s time for a woman to wear the pants in this country,” Perez said. Clinton urged the country Monday to unite and vote for “a hopeful, inclusive, big-hearted America.”
Trump pressed his message with voters who feel left behind by globalization and social change, wrapping up with a flourish on his protectionist “America first” platform. “Just imagine what our country could accomplish if we started working together as one people, under one God, saluting one American flag,” the former reality television star, 70, told cheering supporters in Michigan. In a kick-off midnight vote, the residents of tiny Dixville Notch, New Hampshire cast their traditional first-in-nation ballots with a total of eight votes — Clinton getting four, Trump two, and two votes going to others. No full results or exit polls will be available before polling stations begin to close on the US East Coast from 7 pm (0000 GMT Wednesday), and it may be three or more hours after that before the direction of the race becomes clear. Even then, questions remain. Trump has repeatedly claimed Democrats and the media are seeking to rig the race and said last month that he may not concede defeat if he thinks voting is unfair