| A double rainbow is seen over Baghdad on Tuesday. Breaking months of dry weather, the first rains of winter fell as America voted. (AFP)
Washington, Nov. 2: America's $5-billion dollar poll extravaganza reached its denouement today with President George W. Bush and challenger John Kerry groping for straws in the wind to reveal which of the two men will lead the world's only super power in the four years to come.
Even as long lines formed at voting booths across the country in a surprisingly high turnout of early voters, final pre-poll opinion surveys added to the uncertainty about the outcome.
Some opinion polls gave Bush a statistically insignificant -- and perhaps erroneous ' one-point advantage over Kerry.
Fox News, an openly biased supporter of Bush, showed Kerry leading by two points and the American Research Group put both candidates in a 48-48 per cent tie. The margin of error in all these polls is three per cent.
The first unofficial result of the voting ' in the small New Hampshire hamlet of Dixville Notch ' went in favour of Bush.
Traditionally, voters in Dixville Notch cast their ballots immediately after midnight on election day unlike the rest of America where polling booths open only at 6 am at the earliest.
Dixville Notch has only 26 voters, 11 of whom are registered Republicans. Only two are Democrats while the remaining 13 and Independents. Voters in this hamlet take pride in making their votes an open secret: voting season once in four years is the only time the rest of America talks about Dixville Notch.
Today, 19 of the village's 26 voters cast their ballots in favour of Bush and the remaining seven for Kerry, the town clerk told reporters after all the 26 eligible voters there exercised their franchise.
In 2000, Bush received 21 of Dixville Notch's 27 votes and his then rival, vice-president Al Gore, got five votes. One voter chose Ralph Nader, now running as an Independent candidate.
Although Bush won in Dixville Notch, his share of the vote went down by two while Democrats raised their tally by two. Nader did not get any vote today.
In Florida, which became synonymous with America's election irregularities four years ago, thousands of lawyers -- Democrats, Republicans and representing non-governmental organisations ' fanned across the state from early morning, answering questions from voters and monitoring polling, looking for malpractices.
Voters from Democratic strongholds in the state complained that they received phone calls directing them to wrong polling stations or misinforming that they were not registered to vote.
'It is terrible,' Theresa LePore, the chief election officer in Palm Beach county, told reporters.
Palm Beach county was at the centre of irregularities in 2000. About the results tonight, LePore was brutally cynical. She said: 'That is upto the lawyers'.
Among the early voters in the closely contested state of Ohio -- where Democrats have registered a few hundred thousand new voters -- was 103-year-old Esther Fobes.
A Republican since 1920, she has voted in every election since that year when women were given the right to exercise franchise.
Fobes not only voted early: she will stay up all night, if necessary, to find out who is the next President of the US.
Voting in Ohio -- which Bush must win by conventional wisdom in order to retain the White House ' opened amidst tension and high drama after a federal court ordered at 1.30 am that the eligibility of voters could be challenged by polling agents present at voting booths.
Yesterday, a lower court had barred such challenges and Republicans appealed the decision. Bush supporters plan to challenge the thousands of new voters registered by Democrats in the state.
Bush voted at a fire station in Crawford, Texas and then told reporters: 'My hope, of course, is this election ends tonight. I think it is very important for it to end tonight. The world watches our great democracy function.'
Four years ago, he had to wait 36 days before being declared the winner.
Kerry, who addressed his last rally at 2 am today got little sleep. He could not resist a final appearance at an election morning get-out-the-vote event this morning in Wisconsin.
'We are going to link hands and hearts and we are going to take America to a better place,' Kerry said at that event.
He later flew home to Boston and cast his vote.
Kerry's wife Teresa is registered as a voter in Pennsylvania, where she voted.
After voting, Kerry who is superstitious, went to Boston's Union Oyster House for lunch as he has done after every election in his public life.
This election has so energised Americans that an astronaut, Leroy Chiao, cast his encrypted ballot via e-mail, becoming the first American to vote for President from space.
In 1997, astronaut David Wolf, who was then aboard aboard Russia's Mir space station, voted from space, but that vote was to choose Houston's mayor.