"His plans and policies will help me the most," she said, referring to education issues.

A steady stream of voters filed into Compass Church in Naperville.

Woodridge retirees Dave and Elsie Knoebber, married 52 years, recalled the excitement of their first presidential election with Eisenhower. Their top concerns are related to pensions, Social Security and protecting their health benefits.

"I will be watching tonight with white knuckles," said Dave Knoebber, who taught animation at Columbia College. "Even though we've been around for a lot of elections, each one gets more important. When you're young, you don't worry as much. When you get a little older, it's a different story."

As a retired English teacher who taught literature to Elmhurst middle school students, Dick Owings said education is the key issue to him this election.

"Education is the key to everything," said Owings, 72, who has cast a ballot in every presidential election since Kennedy.

Despite his passion for politics, the self-professed liberal said he won't be tuning into election coverage tonight.

"I overdosed," he said of the onslaught of political coverage in recent weeks.

Even before today, more than a half-million people cast ballots in Chicago and suburban Cook County through early voting and voting by mail. With mailed-in ballots still arriving, the total was slightly below the 557,161 pre-election day ballots cast four years ago.

Illinois has not been in play during the expensive presidential campaign, with Republican Mitt Romney effectively ceding it to home-state President Barack Obama. But the top of the ticket contest could have coattails in the state's new 18 congressional districts.

Obama arrived in Chicago early this morning and will hold an evening rally at McCormick Place. In between, Obama plans to continue his tradition of playing basketball on Election Day, a campaign aide said, and will have dinner with his family at their Kenwood home.

Dahleen Glanton, Angie Leventis Lourgos, Colleen Mastony and Vikki Ortiz Healy contributed.

jscohen@tribune.com, dkidwell@tribune.com

Twitter: @ChicagoBreaking