Millions of Americans have lined up to vote early in the November 4 election -- some waiting more than two hours -- with many appearing to favor Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama.
"The future of our country is at stake," Cecil Johnson, 72, told AFP as he shuffled from one chair to another in a line that stretched the length of the county courthouse in Gary, Indiana.
"The last eight years have been a disaster and I think we have the right candidate that is perhaps capable of rescuing us," said Johnson, who voted for Obama.
Some 16.1 million US voters have already cast ballots ahead of the November 4 presidential election, according to early voting figures compiled Wednesday by George Mason University.
Republicans have traditionally voted early in larger numbers than Democrats. But a concerted campaign to drive Democratic turnout seems to be working, at least in states which have reported early voting tallies.
Some 2.3 million people have voted in California, about 2.4 million in Texas and about 1.5 million in Georgia, according to George Mason.
In the critical battleground of Florida more than 2.6 million people had already voted by Wednesday, with 45 percent being Democrats and 39 percent registered Republicans, according to the study.
In North Carolina, also seen as a key swing state, 1.5 million people have voted with registered Democrats outnumbering Republicans by a margin of 35 percentage points in early voting.
The race is tighter in the battleground of Colorado where 199,000 people have voted early out of the 2.6 million registered voters. Of those early voters 39 percent were Democrat, 38 percent Republican and 24 percent independent.
In Louisiana, of the 266,880 votes -- about 7.6 percent of the registered electorate -- already cast Democrats outnumber Republicans about two to one.
Democrats have a 20 percentage point advantage in early voting turnout in Iowa, where about 13 percent of voters have opted for absentee ballots, and a 16 point advantage in Maine.
In the two Nevada counties and one county in New Mexico which report early voting, Democrats have an advantage ranging from 22 to 24 percentage point advantage. About 150,000 voters have already cast ballots in New Mexico.
"The good news for Obama is I think this is an indication about the level of enthusiasm people have -- they're happy to stand in line because they feel they're all part of this big event," said Michael McDonald, a political scientist with George Mason.
"The good news for the Republicans is they don't do their big push on early voting until the weekend before the election."
Party affiliation does not necessarily mean a guaranteed vote.
Bertha Jessen is a registered Republican and hasn't voted for a Democratic president since John F. Kennedy in 1960. Until now.
"I am voting for the change," she said in a hushed voice as she waited in a nearly two hour line at a polling station in Crown Point, Indiana.
"I don't want (Republican vice presidential pick Sarah) Palin as president and I think that could happen. And I like Obama."
Record numbers of voters are expected to cast ballots in this hotly contested election and elections officials have been encouraging people to vote early to ease pressure on election day.
But the heavy turnout in early voting has already stretched some counties to the limit.
Just two voting stations were available at the polling station in Gary, Indiana which has a large black population and is heavily Democratic.
Republicans had tried to close down that early voting station, arguing it would be too easy for fraudulent voters to come down from nearby Chicago, Illinois and try to tip the balance in Indiana, which is leaning towards Republican presidential hopeful John McCain.
Eileen Woodard, 54, was one of the only white people in line at the Gary courthouse and was concerned that the long waits were a deliberate attempt to dissuade Democrats.
"These lines aren't everywhere," she told AFP, adding she'd heard there were three or four times as many machines available in neighboring towns with larger white populations.
"A lot of things seem that they could be deliberate... it just doesn't seem right and the sad thing is that there are people who can't physically tolerate waiting that long to vote."
But elections officials said they were doing everything they could with the small county's limited resources.
"There shouldn't be any controversies in an election and it's my job to make sure everything is accountable," said Sally LaSota, director of the board of elections in Lake County, Indiana.
"It's an enormous election and everybody wants to vote," she said. "It is wonderful to see -- voters should vote like this every election. That would be great."
Source: AFP American Edition