Web an election winner
- By Dibya Sarkar
- Dec 03, 2000
When the outcome of the presidential race was thrown into doubt on Election
Day, voters, the media and even Florida Gov. Jeb Bush turned to his state's
election Web site to view the returns. Over a nearly two-day period after
polls closed Nov. 7, about 120,000 users per hour bottlenecked the Secretary
of State Web site (election.dos.state. fl.us/index.html).
Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation (CVF), a
nonprofit, nonpartisan voter education group, said when voters view live
unfiltered election results from a noncommercial source, it is a "very empowering
resource for the people. One reason why there's more of a controversy is
more people are being informed about what's going on," she said.
The Internet has become a valuable way for constituents, candidates,
politicians and the media to get information and data about voting, issues
and candidates, according to governmental and nongovernmental officials
who provide election information and resources.
Most state and local government Web sites posted information about registration;
absentee ballots; campaign finance; ballot measures; dates, times and polling
places for primaries and general elections; laws and rules; previous election
results and contact numbers. Many also posted live or almost-live election
CVF canvassed every state election agency this year to build a directory
for Web White & Blue, a nonpartisan consortium of 17 Internet sites
and news organizations to promote civic participation. It found that 42
state agencies had campaign finance data online, seven more than last year;
at least 29 had planned to offer live election returns; and 19 states also
had nonprofit, nonpartisan voter information guides available on the Internet.
Kush, author of "Cybercitizen," a nonpartisan political guide to using the
Internet, said state and local sites that posted ballot information were
"tremendously helpful" to voters, but he said the sites should have also
provided incumbent voting records.
"If voters are going to be informed and educated before they vote, they
have to find out how [incumbents] voted," said Kush, a Washington, D.C.,
consultant to lobbyists. "I would argue this is a critical piece of information."
And voters should demand more services from their governments, he said,
adding, "No voter should accept an "aw shucks' attitude from their state
and local Web sites."
State and municipal election officials said their sites were mainly
used for downloading and printing voter registration and absentee ballot
forms and finding polling places. All said their sites got more hits than
in previous years, a statistic they attributed to the presidential race.
And state and local election agencies are saving money. "In the past,
the phone bank has been where it's been ringing off the walls," said Rocky
Rushing, information management director of the City and County of Denver
Election Commission. This election, they hired fewer temps to handle phone
calls, while hits on the Web site increased significantly. The site got
about 200 hits daily in the weeks prior to the election and 3,189 hits on
Bruce Sherbet, a spokesman for the Dallas County Elections Administration,
said the city's election Web site, which offered almost-live results, received
more than 75,000 hits Election Day. He said they had to change servers because
the site was getting so many hits.
In Washington State, the Secretary of State's spokesman Greg Nordlund
said when his department offered live results for the Sept. 19 state primary,
the site received about a million hits. He said posting election data on
the Web also saved journalists a trip to the government buildings to get
Other state and local election officials who did not post live results
said usage of their sites also dramatically increased because constituents
are savvier about the Internet and expect more voting and election information
from their government sites.
Adelaide Elm, spokeswoman for the nonprofit Project Vote Smart, said
that the Wednesday before Election Day, the site had 375,000 hits, with
400,000 hits the next day. The site offers nonpartisan information on about
41,000 federal, state and local candidates and issues throughout the country.
"[The Internet] is the most popular way to get information," she said.
"It's actually the best way — everything you want whenever you want it."
Voter.com, a year-old private election company that offers news, candidate
profiles, voter information and registration, had record numbers — about
5 million to 8 million impressions per month before October — during the
election season, said spokeswoman Chris Lisi. On Election Day, the site
had a million hits an hour, she said.
But Kush said these "political super sites," which also include Grassroots.com
and SpeakOut.com, focused too heavily on the presidential race, didn't provide
unique or original content, and used "gimmicks" to lure users to their site.