By Amanda Holpuch and Adam Gabbatt in New York, Lois Beckett in Philadelphia and Jon Swaine in Akron, Ohio. Published in The Guardian US on Tuesday, November 8th.

The Democratic candidate voted in Chappaqua, New York and the Republican candidate in Manhattan – but it’s too early to say who is leading the race

After a gruelling 18 months on the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump cast their votes on Tuesday morning as millions of Americans headed to polling stations across the country.

Their ballots follow those of the more than 46 million people who voted early this year, but it remains too early to say whether the scales are tipped toward the former secretary of state or her Republican rival, Donald Trump.

Clinton was greeted by flashing cameras at a school in Chappaqua, New York, where she voted with her husband, former president Bill Clinton. After filling out the ballot, Clinton, who hopes to make history as the country’s first female president, was overwhelmed by hugs and handshakes outside the polling station.

“It is the most humbling feeling, because I know how much responsibility goes with this,” Clinton told reporters outside Douglas G Grafflin elementary school, after casting her vote.

Hours later, Trump arrived at his designated polling site, PS 59 elementary school in Manhattan, where more than 80 voters were lined up in the dark before voting even opened at 6am.

Asked whether he would concede if the networks call the election for Clinton, Trump said: “We’ll see what happens.” In recent weeks,Trump has repeatedly said that he may not concede if he loses the vote, warning in unprecedented remarks that the election could somehow be “rigged”.

People cheered and booed as Trump entered the voting station just before 11am, with his wife, Melania, and daughter, Ivanka. “New York hates you!” yelled one person, while another cheered the candidate on with: “Go Trump.”

Asked by reporters who he was voting for, Trump replied simply: “Tough decision.”

Before Trump arrived, two topless women protested inside the voting site, shouting: “Out of our polls, Trump, out of our polls, Trump!”

The women, who were wearing jeans but no shirts, were escorted out of the station quickly.

But Trump eschewed early morning voting in favor of a phone interview with Fox’s Fox and Friends, where he raised questions about the “phony” polls which put Clinton in the lead just before election day. “I do think a lot of the polls are purposefully wrong,” Trump said.

Some residents of Manhattan’s Upper West Side cast their vote in Trump Place, a residential development built by the Republican nominee in the 1990s. Despite this, the polling station’s name seemed to have no bearing on their voting intentions. “He’s a misogynist, and he’s phobic of everyone who isn’t like him,” said Juliet Herman, a 52-year-old strategist.

Slava Hazin, 50, was one of the few outside Trump Place who said they were voting for Trump. “ABC,” he said. “Anyone but Clinton.” Hazin said he “can’t stand Trump,” but as a Republican, he was voting for him anyway. “It was the worst line-up we’ve ever had,” he said of the original Republican candidates. “I mean, I’ve voted for some Republican duds but this really takes the cake.”

Before polls opened on Tuesday morning, more than 46 million people nationwide had already voted – compared to the 32.3 million people who voted early in 2012. The huge turnout broke early voting records in many states, with some promising outcomes for the Democratic party.

In Florida, a key swing state, nearly 50% of the state had already voted by the time polls opened on Tuesday morning. It was one of many states to see a surge in Hispanic voters, with 36% more of the population voting early in the election than had voted altogether in the 2012 election.

And in Ohio, thousands of people swamped county election board offices on Monday to take advantage of the campaign’s final early-voting hours, which were restricted this year by the Republican-controlled state legislature and Republican governor John Kasich.

Party affiliations of early voters in Ohio have not been made public, but a decline in the percentage who are African American compared with 2012 has given supporters of Donald Trump cause for optimism that the Republican nominee will be able to clinch the state.

Hundreds of people – black, white, young and old – snaked around a parking lot in Akron to cast votes in Summit County, which has voted Democrats for president ever since Ronald Reagan’s re-election in 1984.

In Youngstown, the center of Mahoning County, a former Democratic stronghold where Trump has this year enjoyed a surge in support among blue-collar workers, hundreds more people waited patiently in unseasonably warm sunshine to cast the final votes before election day.

Kevin Stillwell Jr was one of the county’s last early voters, waiting almost two hours in line to cast his ballot shortly before 4pm on Monday. “It’s nothing,” Stillwell, a 20-year-old student at Youngstown State University, said of the wait he had endured. “It’s all worth it to have my say on who will be our president.”

Stillwell, who was raised in Canton, about 60 miles to the south-west, voted for Hillary Clinton, but without much enthusiasm. “They both suck, in my opinion,” he said. “But in this situation, the question is: which is the least worst?”

Trump’s claims in recent weeks of a “rigged election” had left people nationwide concerned that the Republican nominee’s supporters would attempt to intimidate voters at polling stations.

On Monday, two witnesses for the Democratic party testified in a Pennsylvania court that Trump’s claims had left them afraid that people armed with assault rifles would be coming to Philadelphia to watch the polls on voting day.

But in North Philadelphia on Tuesday morning, at a handful of voting divisions that recorded zero votes for Mitt Romney in 2012, there was not a single vigilante poll watcher standing outside the voting places – not even the ones that had given Barack Obama 100% of the vote.

Outside Meade elementary school in Philadelphia’s 47th ward, where one voting division had cast all 173 votes for Obama, there was a booth offering out free smoothies, but no one who appeared to be monitoring the polls for Trump. Three members of the Clinton campaign’s voter protection team were present.

Gwen Frazier, 62, stopped to celebrate voting along with her son, Malik. Both had voted for Clinton. Trump’s comments about Muslims and Mexicans had left her convinced that he did not like African Americans either, she said. “What is he going to say to the foreigners overseas? How is he going to represent us?”

Malcolm Kenyatta, a 26-year-old North Philadelphia native who introduced Clinton at a rally here in April, said he had almost cried when he cast his vote. “It’s a beautiful day to go vote for Hillary,” he said, greeting his neighbors as they came up to the polling place.

Outside a polling place in a public housing building in the 37th ward that had also recorded 100% of the votes for Obama in 2012, 42-year-old Anthony Newsome said that he did not trust Clinton and was not excited about her, but that he had voted for her. “She’s a lesser of two evils,” he said. Trump seemed to have no policies and no plans, he said. “Honestly, I don’t think that he can read.”

The first election day ballots were cast in rural New Hampshire, where Clinton beat Donald Trump handily with a 4-2 win in the township of Dixville Notch. Libertarian Gary Johnson was one vote short of tying with Trump, as was Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican candidate.

But in the three New Hampshire towns with midnight voting, Trump won overall with a 32-25 vote.

Meanwhile, in Rochester, New York, an election tradition has taken on even greater poignancy. Every year on election day, people visit the grave of Susan B Anthony, a driving force behind women’s suffrage, and place “I Voted” stickers on her tombstone. But this year, Mount Hope cemetery has planned for overflow crowds and extended its visiting hours in honor of the first female major party presidential nominee. Already, people have spent Tuesday morning queueing in the dozens.

When the gates close there at 9pm ET, voters in the western US will still be casting their votes. The last polls close at 1am ET, when the final ballots are collected in Alaska, where Trump is favored to win the state and its three electoral votes.

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