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Turnout shaping up to be lower than 2008


WASHINGTON >> A significant drop in voter turnout in Tuesday’s election didn’t keep President Barack Obama from winning a second term in the White House.

Early figures from states where more than 90 percent of the vote has been counted suggest fewer people voted this year than four years ago, when voters shattered turnout records as they elected Obama.

In most states, the numbers are shaping up to be even lower than in 2004, said Curtis Gans, the director of American University’s Center for the Study of the American Electorate. Still, the full picture may not be known for weeks, because much of the counting takes place after Election Day.

In Vermont, turnout for the presidential race dropped more than 14 percent over 2008. Mississippi and South Carolina saw declines that were almost as large. The drop-off was about 10 percent in Maryland, where voters approved a ballot measure allowing gay marriage.

A host of factors could have contributed to waning voter enthusiasm, Gans said. The 2012 race was one of the nastiest in recent memory, leaving many voters feeling turned off. With Democrats weary from a difficult four years and Republicans splintered by a divisive primary, neither party was particularly enthused about their own candidate. Stricter voting restrictions adopted by many states may also have kept some voters away from the polls.

Another likely suspect was Superstorm Sandy, which devastated areas of the East Coast one week before the election, wiping out power for millions and disrupting usual voting routines. In Hoboken, N.J., Anthony Morrone said he’s never missed a vote — until now.

“No time, no time to vote, too much to do,” said Morrone, 76, as he surveyed the exterior of his home: a pile of junked refrigerators, a car destroyed by flooding and a curbside mountain of waterlogged debris.

For example, about 13 percent fewer voters in New Jersey cast ballots for president than in 2008, although the gap could tighten in the coming days. Elections officials have given displaced residents in some areas until Friday to cast special email ballots.

In other parts of the country, low turnout belied the ardent efforts by some voters to make their voices heard.

Some voters in South Carolina’s Richland County waited more than four hours to cast their votes, and leaders from both parties blamed the delays on broken voting machines. Officials in Virginia and New Hampshire reported many voters were still waiting to vote when polls closed in the evening. In major battleground states like Ohio and Florida, lines snaked back and forth as voters waited patiently to cast their ballots.

“I’ve been waiting for four years to cast this vote,” said Robert Dan Perry, 64, as he cast his vote for Romney in Zebulon, N.C.

Both Obama and Republican Mitt Romney made voter turnout a top priority in the waning days of an intensely close race.

One bright spot in this year’s voting was the number of early and mail-in ballots cast. Before polls opened on Election Day, more than 32 million people had cast their ballots, either by mail or in person, in 34 states and the District of Columbia. In a number of states, including Iowa, Maryland and Montana, early voting appeared to far exceed totals from 2008.

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