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After a long campaign, voters -- a lot of them -- take to the polls

| Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2004

Elections and flu shot lines have something common this season: long lines.

The polls at the South Side Presbyterian Church opened at 7 a.m. today with a line 20 deep already forming. Early bird voters were greeted by a 15- to 20- minute wait. Voter Melissa Guna, 27, of the South Side, said she expected lines to be worse.

Polls predict a close race between Republican President George W. Bush and Democratic Sen. John Kerry for control of the White House.

"This is such a high-profile election. Everyone in the South Side seems to be a big supporter of one candidate or the other," Guna said. "Given how close the election was last time, people are coming out. It was so close last election, people this year really feel like their vote counts."

Guna expected more people, but Judge of Elections Roberta Stackawitz said morning crowds were overwhelming.

"We've never had anything like this, all these people coming in at 7 a.m. In past years, people just trickled in all day," Stackawitz said.

People also started experiencing problems early. A steady stream of voters who ran into registration problems this morning filed into a county courtroom at the City County Building Downtown for court orders allowing them to vote. In the first two hours the polls were opened, about 40 such voters got a Common Pleas Court judge's permission to cast their ballots.

Meanwhile, county elections officials and close to a dozen lawyers fielded phone calls concerning minor complaints from polling places all over the county. Officials said the amount of voters appearing for court orders and the number of polling station complaints were normal for a presidential election.

"There's just a lot more observers here than what we normally see," said attorney John Bacharach, the solicitor for the Allegheny County Sheriff's Department.

Voters today also will cast ballots for a U.S. Senate seat, U.S. House of Representatives terms, members of the General Assembly and state row offices including treasurer, attorney general and auditor general.

Staff writer Dave Conti contributed to this report.

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