Political Web sites hit heavily during election

The US election stretched to breaking point the resources of sites specialising in political coverage.

While voter turnout may have been lower than expected on US election day, people seemed to visit election Web sites in droves to check results, sort out propositions and find polling locations.

In fact, many political sites were hit so hard they were unable to keep pace with the number of demands being placed on them. Some sites posted outdated information and others broke down altogether.

MSNBC at http://www.msnbc.com was so overwhelmed with requests that it was not accessible at one stage. The site administrators reportedly added more servers to handle the barrage of hits. During one hour when the site was back-logged with requests, and even at times afterwards, users were often greeted with the message: "There are too many connected users. Please try again later."

PoliticsNow at http://www.politicsnow.com, a site run by ABC, the Washington Post and the National Journal, also experienced down time around the time the polls closed on the East Coast. In addition to its servers suffering under huge demands from Web surfers, the PoliticsNow site suffered a breakdown on its Internet backbone connection.

"However, the beauty of the Internet is that not everyone who was accessing the site was being routed through that same pipe, and so the site was not down completely," Whitt says.

Problems also abounded on the California Secretary of State Web page (http://www.vote96.ss.ca.gov) which had promised to post ongoing election results every 15 minutes. However, because of a technology glitch, no results were posted until after 10pm--hours after online newspapers and TV and radio stations began to announce results.

Some Web sites lived up to their promise to deliver instantaneous information, including CBS and CNN, which funnelled results to surfers at a quick pace and presented information in an easy-to-read format. CNN's site at http://www.allpolitics.com even had some results posted ahead of its TV big brother. CBS's site at http://www.cbsnews.com was slightly behind its TV counterpart, but listed all kinds of results, including exit poll information.

Despite problems, the amount of people accessing the Web to find out about the election proves that it is a viable medium to distribute information in a timely fashion, Whitt says.

"We had phenomenal, unbelievable usage on the site last night," Whitt says.

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