Web an election winner

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

results.

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.

Christopher

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

Election Day.

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

information.

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.

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