NEW YORK (Reuters) - Polls began to close in the long and bitter race for the White House between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump on Tuesday (Nov 8), with last-minute opinion polls giving Clinton the edge in the final hours of the race.
Polls in the Eastern time zones of Indiana and Kentucky - both overwhelmingly Republican - were the first to close, and a flood of vital battleground states such as Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio – where polls were due to close in the next 90 minutes – would provide initial clues of the possible winner.
Three of Kentucky's 3,698 precincts have reported their vote tallies, according to the Associated Press, with 77.7 per cent going to Trump and 19.5 per cent going to Clinton.
Clinton led Trump, 44 per cent to 39 per cent, in the last Reuters/Ipsos national tracking poll before Election Day. A Reuters/Ipsos States of the Nation poll gave her a 90 per cent chance of defeating Trump and becoming the first US woman president.
Trump on Tuesday again raised the possibility of not accepting the election's outcome, saying he had seen reports of voting irregularities. He gave few details and Reuters could not immediately verify the existence of such problems.
The campaign focused on the character of the candidates: Clinton, 69, a former US secretary of state, and Trump, 70, a New York businessman. They often accused each other of being fundamentally unfit to lead the United States as it faces challenges such as an arduous economic recovery, Islamist militants and the rise of China.
Financial markets, betting exchanges and online trading platforms largely predicted a Clinton win, although Trump's team says he can pull off an upset victory like the June "Brexit"vote to pull Britain out of the European Union.
Trump's candidacy embodied an attack on America's political establishment. Clinton represented safeguarding the political order.
A Clinton presidency would likely provide continuity from fellow Democrat Barack Obama's eight years in the White House, although if Republicans retain control of at least one chamber in Congress more years of political gridlock in Washington could ensue.
A win for Trump could shake some of the basic building blocks of American foreign policy, such as the NATO alliance and free trade, and reverse some of Obama's domestic achievements such as his 2010 healthcare law.
With more than 225 million people eligible to cast ballots, voting ends in some states at 7 pm Eastern Time (8am Singapore time on Wednesday), with the first meaningful results due about an hour later. US television networks called the winner of the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections at 11 pm (12pm Singapore time) or shortly after.
Victory in US presidential elections is earned not by the popular vote, but by an Electoral College system that awards the White House on the basis of state-by-state wins, meaning a handful of states where the race is close assume an outsized importance.
Voters appeared to be worried about the nation's direction and were seeking a "strong leader who can take the country back from the rich and powerful," according to an early reading from the Reuters/Ipsos national Election Day poll.
The poll of more than 10,000 people who voted in the election showed a majority worried about their ability to get ahead, with little confidence in political parties or the media to improve their situation.
'NOT GOOD CANDIDATES'
Majorities of voters in opinion polls viewed both candidates unfavorably after a marathon campaign that began in early 2015. "They're both not good candidates, but I'd rather vote for 'worse' than 'worser,'" said Estefani Rico, 20, a first-time voter who cast her ballot for Clinton in Miami.
"It's nerve racking that in my first time being able to vote I get the worst candidates ever," she said.
Mary Wheeler, 94, held her nose when asked which candidate she was supporting as she stood in line to vote in St. Petersburg, Florida. "I always vote Republican, so I guess I'll do that," Wheeler said. "He can make a fool of himself but I think he may be able to straighten things out a little bit," she said of Trump.
Trump was expected to draw support heavily from white voters without college degrees.
Clinton was likely to draw support from college-educated voters and Hispanic and black voters.
Voting appeared to go smoothly despite allegations in recent weeks from Trump that the electoral system was rigged against him.
Asked if believed the election would not be over on Tuesday night, Trump on Tuesday told Fox News: "I'm not saying that. I have to look at what's happening. There are reports that when people vote for Republicans, the entire ticket switches over to Democrats. You've seen that. It's happening at various places." Local media in Pennsylvania reported that voters in several counties had reported that touch-screen voting machines had not been recording their ballots correctly.
Republicans in Pennsylvania also complained that some of their authorized poll watchers were denied access to polling sites in Philadelphia, local media said.
Trump also sued the registrar of voters in Nevada's Clark County over a polling place in Las Vegas that remained open on Friday during an early-voting period to accommodate people, many of them Hispanic, who were lined up to cast ballots.
A Nevada judge on Tuesday rejected Trump's request for records from the polling site.
Trump and Clinton are seeking to succeed Democrat Obama, who served two four-year terms in the White House and is barred by the U.S. Constitution from seeking another term.
Clinton spent eight years in the White House as U.S. first lady, the wife of President Bill Clinton, from 1993 to 2001 before serving as a senator and as Obama's secretary of state. She also ran for president in 2008, but lost to Obama for the Democratic nomination.
Trump has vowed to crack down on illegal immigration and end trade deals he says are harming U.S. workers.
Trump seized the spotlight time and again during the campaign with provocative comments about Muslims and women, attacks against the Republican establishment and bellicose promises to build a wall along the U.S. southern border with Mexico to stem illegal immigration.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average index ended up 0.4 per cent as investors bet on a win for Clinton, who Wall Street sees as more likely to ensure financial and political stability.
Mexico's peso hit a two-month high on Tuesday on the expectation of a loss for Trump, who has vowed to rip up a trade deal with Mexico.
An early indicator of who might prevail could come in North Carolina and Florida, two must-win states for Trump.
Races in both those states were shifting from favouring Clinton to being too close to call, according to opinion polls.
Democrats also are seeking to break the Republican lock on control of the US Congress.
A strong turnout of voters for Clinton could jeopardise Republican control of the Senate, as voters choose 34 senators of the 100-member chamber on Tuesday. Democrats needed a net gain of five seats to win control. All 435 seats in the House of Representatives are being contested. The House is expected to remain in Republican hands.
Trump revelled in the drama of the campaign but the spotlight was not always kind to him. The release in October of a 2005 video in which he boasted about groping women damaged his campaign and left him on the defensive for critical weeks Clinton, with a long reputation for secrecy, sustained damaging blows from her handling of classified information as the country's top diplomat. It was only two days before the election that FBI Director James Comey reiterated that she would not face criminal charges.
Trump's vice presidential running mate is Mike Pence, the governor of Indiana. Clinton's running mate is US Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia.