■ Obama edges ahead as race goes down to wire
■ Swing states are divided by the smallest of margins

US VOTERS went to the polls yesterday in one of the tightest presidential elections in memory, with the race to the White House set to be decided by the slimmest of margins in a number of key battleground states.

As early results from crucial swing states trickled through in the early hours of the morning, the race teetered on a knife-edge, although Democrat President Barack Obama appeared to have the upper hand. Polling in Florida and Virginia was neck-and-neck as City A.M. went to press, while initial vote counting in Ohio – seen as the most important territory – gave Obama a slim lead over Republican opponent Mitt Romney.

Obama appeared to be closing in on another swing state, New Hampshire, with few surprises elsewhere.

The first states on the east coast closed voting at midnight GMT, and the election officially ended at 6am this morning as Alaska shut its polling stations. Yesterday brought an end to months of campaigning and billions of dollars spent between the two candidates.

Early reports suggested a much higher than expected turnout with long queues across the country, especially in closely fought Virginia and Florida. A higher turnout is believed to favour the President.

Obama and former Massachusetts governor Romney have repeatedly clashed over taxes, healthcare and government spending. The incumbent has pledged to remove tax cuts for the highest earners, while Romney has vowed to repeal Obama’s healthcare reforms on his first day in office.

Romney continued to campaign throughout election day, a rare occurrence in the US, as he embarked on a whirlwind tour of Ohio and Pennsylvania after voting in his home town of Belmont, Massachusetts. Obama, who cast his vote two weeks ago, spent the day in his native Chicago having wrapped up his campaign at a rally in Iowa on Monday night.

With polls showing the two candidates neck-and-neck, the race was set to be decided by whose supporters turned up on the day. “We feel confident that we’ve got the votes to win but it’s going to depend ultimately on whether those votes turn out,” Obama told reporters yesterday. He also praised his counterpart for a “spirited” campaign.

Although New Jersey and New York continued to feel the effects of Hurricane Sandy, with many residents displaced and makeshift polling booths open, the storm is unlikely to have affected the outcome in the two Democratic strongholds. However, Sandy is expected to have given Obama a late boost nationwide. Exit polls claimed nearly two-thirds of people said his response to the storm was a factor.

Polls conducted earlier yesterday gave the President a three-point advantage in the popular vote, but narrowing margins than in the crucial swing states.

Although 428 of the 538 electoral college votes appeared practically decided, due to most states strongly favouring the Republican or Democrat candidate, the eventual winner needs a strong showing in the nine swing states to achieve victory.

Florida, historically one of the country’s most decisive battlegrounds, appeared to be the closest of the states, with yesterday’s polls disagreeing on who was more likely to win the state’s 29 electoral votes.

The first result to be counted, in the tiny New Hampshire village of Dixville Notch, illustrated just how close the contest was. Votes were tied for the first time in the village’s history at five for each candidate when they were announced yesterday morning.

The voting process was not so smooth in the rest of the country however, with reports of polling machine malfunctions and voter fraud in several states.