Internet Exit Poll Leaks Election Day

A handful of Web sites struck a defiant tone today, publishing what they claimed was exit-poll data despite embargoes requiring the information not be disseminated until polls had closed.

But while all the Web publishers cited sources with access to the embargoed exit polls, the posted results did not always agree, suggesting the data was not always flowing from the same sources.

“We tried to track Matt Drudge, but when his first batch came up, all our sources discounted the information as wrong,” says Taegan Goddard, co-publisher of politicalinsider.com. “After that, we couldn’t get on his site.”

Drudge Posts Early

In fact, by late afternoon, many people reported problems logging onto the Drudge Report (www.drudgereport.com), a Web page made famous for its coverage of President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky.

Today, Drudge published results as early as 2:30 p.m. ET that, he claimed, reflected exit poll numbers.

The results, which included projections of who was leading in the presidential race, numbers for the presidential race in California and for the U.S. Senate seat in New York, were announced more than eight hours before polls were scheduled to close on the West Coast. Drudge labeled the presidential results as “developing” and cited anonymous sources.

A dispatch on Inside.com said that Freerepublic.com and Lucianne Goldberg’s site, lucianne.com, would ease the burden on Drudge’s server by reprinting information from his site on their pages. By evening Goldberg’s site began posting Drudge’s reports.

Most news organizations refrain from posting exit poll information — based on interviews with voters as they leave the voting booths — until after polls in that state have closed, fearing the information could influence those who have not yet voted.

PoliticalInsider.com didn’t post exit-poll results, but, instead sent the information by e-mail to its more than 50,000 subscribers. Inside.com, a site covering entertainment and media, posted reports this afternoon of what they claimed were exit-poll results of the presidential race in more than 10 states.

“We’d given some thought to doing this earlier, but we didn’t make the decision until today,” says Michael Hirschorn, editor-in-chief of Inside.com. “In fact, we thought releasing the numbers would spur voters going to the polls.”

The Numbers’ Origin

Much of the exit-poll information flows from a body called the Voter News Service, or VNS, which is a consortium of TV networks (including ABCNEWS), cable news and The Associated Press.

None of the Web sites that posted what they claimed were exit-poll results today subscribe to the service. They argue that since they don’t receive the information directly from VNS, but through anonymous sources, they are not obliged to follow the consortium’s embargo policies.

That attitude has VNS rule-makers concerned.

“We are obviously very concerned about possible leaks and we will review each situation and take the appropriate and necessary actions to protect our rights,” says Lee C. Shapiro, a spokeswoman for VNS.

During the Republican primaries this fall, Slate.com and National Review Online published exit-poll results several hours before polls closed. Both sites decided against publishing exit-poll results today after VNS threatened them with legal action in the fall.

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