WASHINGTON, Nov. 3 (UPI) -- Thousands of campaign ads, daily stump speeches and $4 billion later, Election Day has arrived in the United States.
Voters across the country will decide who will occupy 36 governors' mansions and 36 Senate seats, with control of Congress hanging in the balance. They will also cast ballots on several hot-button issues that have the potential to drive voter turnout in some of the closest races.
Democrats hold a 55-to-45 seat majority in the Senate, including two independents who caucus with Democrats. For the GOP to wrest control, it needs to flip at least six Democrat-held seats.
Races in nine states -- Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Iowa, Louisiana, New Hampshire and North Carolina -- will be key to determining which party holds the Senate.
Most polls give Republicans a slight edge going into the final week of the campaign, but so many races are so close that the final tally could hinge on potential runoffs in Louisiana and Georgia.
As in every election, voter turnout will be key. In most cases, pollsters weight their results based on likely voters -- who has turned out in the past, and who is most likely to do so again. Democrats are banking on unexpectedly high turnout of their supporters, the young and minority voters who often skip midterms, to turn the Republican polling advantage on its head.
Watch for turnout in states like Colorado, which has a controversial "personhood" measure on the ballot, or Alaska, where voters will decide on recreational marijuana and raising the minimum wage, to affect tight races for Senate and governor.
Unusually low turnout, on the other hand, might indicate that the record-breaking spending ended up pushing voters away. Despite improvements in the economy, voters are more dissatisfied with the country, the president, Congress and both parties than they were in either 2010 or 2012, while enthusiasm about voting is lower than in any election since 1998.
With voting underway Tuesday, turnout appeared strong in states with tight races, with few major issues reported at polling places.
On Monday, the Department of Justice announced it would deploy in-person monitoring this year, the first since the Supreme Court struck down a major component of the Voting Rights Act. Among the 18 states where DOJ staff will monitor polling places are Texas, North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin, all of which have contentious new voter ID laws.
Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy asked a judge to extend voting hours after problems were reported at polling locations in Hartford.
In Georgia, state officials confirmed that the election website, where people can go to learn where to vote, was having problems.
Early voting in Georgia reached nearly a million votes, an almost 21 percent increase over 2010. African Americans are a growing portion of the population, and Democrats are targeting the Georgia as the next red state to turn purple.
In Iowa, one of the tightest and toughest races in the cycle, candidates Republican state Sen. Joni Ernst and Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, continued campaigning right up to the finish line. Braley, with retiring Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, declared his confidence in the Democrats' ground game to turn out a winning vote.
Ernst, meanwhile, made an early morning at a Fort Dodge convenience store Tuesday, hugging all 17 supporters who came for the 1 a.m. campaign stop. Then, she hopped on her campaign bus for a 3:45 a.m. stop at Sioux City diner.
In Maine, where an early winter storm Monday knocked out power to thousands of people in the Mid-Coast area, officials scrambled to relocate polling places that had lost electricity. Voters were told to go on line to maine.gov/sos to find out if there had been a move, but officials said they would also do it the old-fashioned way with signs on the doors of closed polling stations.
"As long as people can mark their ballots by 8 p.m. on Election Day, their vote will be counted," Secretary of State Matt Dunlap promised. "Any adjustments that need to be made will be made public as broadly as we can."
The Huffington Post reported that at least 27,000 people had tweeted they had voted by mid-morning. That included U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., announced that voting in Hanover, a Democrat stronghold, will be extended.
"Pizza and coffee is on the way and the line is moving quickly. If you were in line and left, you can head back and vote," she wrote in a Facebook post. "If you haven't voted yet, you have extra time to get over to the High School at 41 Lebanon Street."
Shaheen is hoping to fight off an unexpectedly strong challenge from former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, and late polls show the race to be extremely close.
In South Dakota, results will be delayed one hour after two Shannon County polling places opened late thanks to poll workers who failed to show up on time. Secretary of State Jason Gant said results will start to be released at 9 p.m. CST.
Polls were also delayed in Chicago, where six precinct stations will be kept open an hour late after staffers were late or did not show after judges received robocalls telling them they needed to attend additional training or had to vote a certain way. The Chicago Sun-Times reported problems with ballot scanners in some precincts and paper ballots that did not include some questions.
Virginia's U.S. Rep. Scott Rigell said his office had received reports of problems with electronic voting in Virginia Beach. A short video shows a voter having a problem casting a vote for Rigell, with the electronic ballot placing an "x" in the box for his Democratic opponent, Suzanne Patrick.
The Virginia Republican Party complained to the Department of Elections, but Virginia Beach Voter Registrar Donna Patterson said Rigell's office was blowing problems out of proportion, and that misfiring machines are immediately taken out of service.
"To be honest with you, we've had more calls from Rigell's office than from voters," Patterson said.
Long lines were reported at polling sites in Wisconsin, where voters had lengthy ballots to fill out.
This voting place is so busy ppl are using the wall as their voting booth. Sherman Park School on Locust. pic.twitter.com/e5tZF7IYPH— Mike De Sisti (@mdesisti) November 4, 2014
Vice President Joe Biden, never one to hew to the politically correct line, raised eyebrows Tuesday when he predicted that Democrats would not only hold the Senate majority, but they would do so with the help of Kansas independent Greg Orman.
"We have a chance of picking up an independent who will be with us in the state of Kansas," Biden said in an interview with WPLR, a radio station in Connecticut.
Did Biden slip and reveal Orman's secret, or was he simply speaking optimistically? Orman, running against incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, has not said which party caucus he will choose if elected, saying instead he will "caucus for Kansas."
Orman's campaign pushed back against the vice president's comments, denying any communication between Orman and the White House.
President Barack Obama, gave radio 14 interviews on Monday and Tuesday, including one to NPR in which he blamed the challenging electoral map on Democrats' troubles.
"In this election cycle, this is probably the worst possible group of states for Democrats since Dwight Eisenhower," he said. "There are just a lot of states that are being contested, where they just tend to vote Republican."
With reporting in Iowa by Aimee Keane, Medill News Service for UPI.