The first polls across the country are closing, kicking up the excitement as the first votes of the close presidential election begin getting tallied.
Kentucky, at 6 p.m., was the first state to close the polls. It's followed by Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Vermont and Virginia, at 7 p.m., and Ohio, North Carolina, and West Virginia at 7:30. Voters who stay in line after the polls close will still have their votes counted, an important factor particularly in swing states where the margins will be smaller and voter turnout tends to be the heaviest.
Sixteen more states have polls that close at 8 p.m., including Florida, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania, considered top battleground states. Florida is a critical state for Romney to secure, just as Pennsylvania is for Obama.
Cable news, aided by expensive exit poll data, have already begun calling reliably partisan states for either President Barack Obama or Republican rival Mitt Romney. So far, Romney is expected to carry victories in Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, Oklahoma, West Virginia, South Carolina, and Indiana. Obama has secured Illinois, Delaware, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Vermont. None of the projections carry any surprises.
For the most part, networks wait until they are absolutely certain before adding a state to a candidate's column. However, in the 2000 presidential election, the networks called Florida alternately for Democrat Al Gore as well as Republican George W. Bush before naming it too close to call. Bush eventually was awarded the state, winning it narrowly with a couple hundred votes.
Anticipation, excitement and anxiety will continue to build throughout the evening, as election watchers will have to wait for the actual votes to be tallied in the most critical states.
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Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.