The time for obsessing over the latest swing state opinion polls was over as the greatest political show entered its thrilling finale after an 18-month roller-coaster ride that has gone right down to the wire.
The most expensive campaign in history, and one of the most negative, saw more than $6 billion unleashed by the rival camps in a fight to persuade the American people over very different visions of the future.
Voters will decide whether to re-elect Obama despite the plodding economy or hand the reins to Romney, who has vowed a return to prosperity through smaller government.
Democrat Obama leads his Republican foe by a whisker heading into polling day as he seeks to defy historical precedent that suggests incumbent presidents fail to win a second four-year term at times of high unemployment.
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor blasted by critics as a rich plutocrat indifferent to middle class pain, would make history as the first Mormon president and promises to ignite economic growth and job creation.
Within 20 minutes of polls opening dozens of voters were lined up outside stations in northern Virginia, an early sign of enthusiasm in a state where the two candidates are locked in a virtual tie.
Both men, exhausted by the last manic Monday of a campaign that has raged for two years, made their final, heartfelt plea to voters in late night rallies attended by fervent supporters.
“Tomorrow, from the granite of New Hampshire to the Rockies of Colorado, from the coastlines of Florida, to Virginia’s rolling hills, from the valleys of Ohio to these Iowa fields, we will keep America moving forward,” Obama said.
Romney put an exclamation mark on his campaign with his own, rowdy late night rally, at a sports arena in New Hampshire. “Tomorrow is a moment to look into the future and imagine what we can do, to put that past four years behind us and build a new future,” Romney said.
The president’s early voting and polling leads in battleground states also stirred confidence in his campaign team. Romney aides, however, predicted a surge of enthusiasm for the Republican would confound state polls, which they said overestimated the likely Democratic turnout and did not register the undercurrent of antipathy for Obama.
Witch doctor predicts Obama’s win
A witch doctor in Barack Obama’s ancestral village already knows who'll be victorious. “Obama is very far ahead and is definitely going to win,” John Dimo declared, pointing to a white shell lying among bones and other artefacts in front of his hut in Kogelo village. Dimo is confident of his traditional methods and is adamant the result would go in Obama’s favour. Other villagers in Kogelo, were also preparing to celebrate.
Confused by the US elections? MiD DAY explains the electoral system
>> Under the US electoral college system, each state has a number of votes which is linked to its number of members of Congress, and reflects its population.
>> The most populous state, California, has the most votes, 55, while other large states like New York and Florida each have 29. The least populated states, Montana, Vermont and Alaska, for example, have just three votes.
>> A presidential candidate needs 270 electoral college votes — a majority of the 538 available — to win. With two minor exceptions, all electoral votes are cast for the candidate that wins the state, no matter what the margin.
>> Some 11 states could go either way in the 2012 election, with the three holding the most electoral college votes being Florida (29), Pennsylvania (20) and Ohio (18).
>> Once America has voted on Tuesday, the president-elect will prepare his administration and appoint officials ahead of being sworn in, traditionally by the Chief Justice, at the inauguration ceremony in January.
New York voters undeterred by Hurricane Sandy
Election Day turnout was heavy on Tuesday in several storm-ravaged areas in New York and New Jersey, with many voters expressing relief and even elation at being able to vote at all, considering the devastation. Lines were long in Point Pleasant, New Jersey, where residents from the Jersey Shore communities of Point Pleasant Beach and Mantoloking had to cast their ballots due to damage in their hometowns.
Many there still have no power eight days after Sandy pummelled the shore. “Oh my God, I have been so anxious about being able to vote,” said Annette DeBona of Point Pleasant Beach. “It’s such a relief to be able to do it. This is the happiest vote I ever cast in my life.” Another resident said she had planned to vote for Obama, but said her resolve was strengthened by his response to Superstorm Sandy. “I was extremely impressed by his response to the storm," she said. “For people who were not so certain about him, I think this may have sealed the deal.”