In scenes reminiscent more of an emerging democracy than one of the oldest in the world, would-be voters waited for up to seven hours in some parts of the United States to cast a ballot.
The U.S. presidential candidates threw the full resources of their campaigns into getting supporters to the polls Tuesday in an election that both said was crucial to the future of the country. But in many cases, the resulting crush of voters overwhelmed polling stations, some of which ran out of ballots and resorted to photocopies.
The situation was so bad in some particularly Democratic areas that critics characterized it as a partisan plot to suppress the vote. And Barack Obama, re-elected for a second term, said in his acceptance speech such delays to vote were unacceptable.
"I want to thank every American who participated in this election," he told supporters in Chicago. "Whether you voted for the very first time, or waited in line for a very long time. By the way, we have to fix that."
In a get-out-the-vote video released earlier in the day, Mr. Obama had urged his supporters to go to the polls and reminded them that they could still cast their ballot if they were in line when the polling station reached its official closing time.
Many showed their determination to wait as long as it took.
People were still lined up in Florida and Virginia – two key battleground states – long after Mr. Obama had been projected to win by major media outlets, with some queues in Florida persisting until the early hours of Wednesday. And while some people admitted giving up after trying repeated polling stations, others told the grassroots group Video the Vote they had waited up to seven hours in line.
Delays that snarled early voting made the trend clear even before the official day arrived Tuesday. In a tweet to voters preparing to head to the polls, former champion boxer Mike Tyson urged them to prepare for "possibly hours" of waiting. "Don't get discouraged. Be prepared with food, water & a chair," he added.
The situation could be viewed simply as an embarrassment in long-standing democracy. But within the context of voter ID laws – which Republicans say are necessary to prevent fraud but Democrats say unfairly target lower-income Americans, who tend to vote Democratic – and moves to restrict early voting, some see a more sinister reality.
Andrew Cohen wrote for The Atlantic that the situation is a blot on the country's reputation that subverts its message of democracy to the world.
"Elected officials are making it harder for American citizens to vote and to have their votes counted," he wrote. "And in each instance, the partisan restrictions are designed to impact the elderly, and the poor, and students. The Constitution gives power to the states to handle elections. But what we are seeing is one party's systemic abuse of that power to disenfranchise likely voters of another party."