Voter Turnout Higher in Close Races

Despite expectations that the voter turnout would be near record lows for Election Day, states with heated political battles saw high poll traffic Tuesday.

Both parties poured millions of dollars into get-out-the-vote operations. The campaigns seemed to work primarily in states with close races.

Twenty-eight states had higher turnouts this year while 22 states and the District of Columbia had lower turnouts according to Curtis Gans, director of the independent Committee for the Study of the American Electorate.

Overall, Gans estimated Tuesday's turnout at 77 million, more than 39 percent of voting-age citizens. In the 1998 elections, the figure was 37.6 percent -- the lowest midterm turnout since 1942.

Once all the votes are tallied in Minnesota, which were still being counted Wednesday morning, voter turnout could hit record numbers. The hotly contested race between Republican former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman who beat Democratic former Vice President Walter Mondale had an especially high profile after Senator Paul Wellstone was killed in a plane crash.

In some precincts in Bloomington, MN, polls closed at 9 p.m. EST, but voters waited up to two hours to cast their ballots after that. Minnesota law states that when the polls close whoever is in line gets to vote.

And in Golden Valley, MN, more than 300 people had voted within an hour after the polls opened at 7 a.m.

A close Senate race in New Hampshire drove turnout to more than 48 percent, about 12 percent higher than in 1998, said Gans.

Turnout rose 5 percentage points in Missouri because of another close contest for the Senate and in Massachusetts because of a hard-fought governor's race.

In Florida lines were long not only because of initial technical glitches with voting machines. In fact, turnout rose by 6 percentage points because of Bill McBride's spirited, but unsuccessful challenge to Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, said Gans.

Tightly contested races drew Colorado residents to the polls Tuesday, helped along by the mild weather. Republican Sen. Wayne Allard defeated Democratic challenger Tom Strickland.

Voter turnout in South Dakota was strong despite freezing rain in parts of the state. Sue Roust, Minnehaha County auditor, said many people voted before going to work and turnout was brisk.

"It has been very heavy," she said Tuesday. "We have some precincts that by 10 o'clock had had almost a 25 percent turnout."

Arkansas Secretary of State Sharon Priest said that high-interest in ballot measures, plus close calls for senator and governor, brought out more voters on Tuesday.

But not every state was thriving with voter activity.

Californians were decidedly unexcited by both candidates for governor, although Democratic incumbent Gray Davis, a career politician, beat Republican Bill Simon, a wealthy financier and first-time candidate.

In New York, turnout was light as voters went to the polls to elect a governor, state comptroller and attorney general.

"We had a 40 percent turnout last year. We think it's going to be the same this year," said Naomi Bernstein, spokeswoman for the city's Board of Elections, a few hours after polls opened.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.