As clock ticks on election day, a final push in Ohio

ElectionsPoliticsLos Angeles Times JournalistsMitt RomneyBarack ObamaJoe BidenPaul Ryan

It’s up to the voters now.

After a bitter presidential campaign that lasted a seeming eternity, was financed from a bottomless well of partisan cash and remained tight until the very end, election day dawned across a country that may be divided politically, but is united in its commitment to the peaceful expression of differences.

At least until the polls close.

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President Obama was home in Chicago, visiting volunteers at a campaign field office where he made a few calls to surprised voters. "This is Barack Obama,” he told one woman. “You know, the president?"

Obama, who voted on Oct. 25, planned to sit for radio interviews and play basketball with his staff and friends, an election day tradition.

The Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, wrung every moment from the last day of the campaign, planning to appear at two rallies before heading back home to Boston, where he will watch the returns.

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He voted Tuesday morning with his wife, Ann, in Belmont, the Boston suburb where they live. On their way out of the Beech Street Center, Romney kissed his wife and hugged his oldest son, Tagg, then flew to the state that could well determine the election: Ohio.

“I feel great about Ohio,” said Romney, who has trailed Obama in the most recent Ohio polls, though the results have generally been within the margin of error.

Underscoring the importance of that toss-up state, and its 18 electoral votes: In a 20-minute span, planes carrying Romney;  his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan; and Vice President Joe Biden all touched down at the same airport. Romney and Ryan, who voted with his wife, Janna, in Janesville, Wis., Tuesday morning,  thanked volunteers at a campaign office and stopped for lunch at a Wendy's before going their separate ways for appearances in Pittsburgh (Romney) and Richmond, Va. (Ryan).

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Biden and his wife, Jill, voted at home in Delaware before flying to Cleveland, where they mingled with voters at a Greek diner, chatting and posing for pictures. Cuyahoga County, with a large  black population, provided Obama and Biden most of their Ohio margin of victory in 2008.

Around the country, both parties, angling for advantage, were on high alert for voting irregularies, malfunctioning voting machines, voter intimidation and voter fraud.

Both New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Mario Cuomo eased voting rules to accommodate victims of Hurricane Sandy. Though people along the battered coastline of New Jersey and some parts of New York struggled to  get to polling places, voting in most places seemed to go smoothly.

Millions of voters have already cast ballots, either by mail or at early voting locales, in the last month or so. Glitches with voting machines were sporadically reported around the country, but in Florida, the site of the 2000 election fiasco, there was a notable snafu, which some at first took to be a move right out of the dirty trick playbook.

About 12,000 phones in Pinellas County started ringing on election day with a reassuring automated message: the voters still had until tomorrow to turn in their absentee ballots.

By then, of course, the election would be over and the votes wouldn't count. But the calls came from the Pinellas County Elections Department, and they were a mistake.

"That message was supposed to expire by 8 last night," said Nancy Whitlock, Elections Department communications director. The message, which went to voters who had requested but hadn’t returned absentee ballots, was fixed within an hour, she said.

Staff writer Michael A. Memoli contributed to this report.

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