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Web sites run with early election results

Online news services Inside.com and Evote.com post early exit poll results, breaking ranks with traditional media that have promised to withhold the information until all polls close.

Online news services Inside.com and Evote.com posted early exit poll results Tuesday afternoon, breaking ranks with traditional media that have promised to withhold the information until all polls across the country close.

In a one-paragraph brief, Inside acknowledged that the latest presidential election results remain wildly sketchy, but the online magazine nonetheless posted the information based on reports given to it by several journalists who saw the coveted data, which is collected by Voter News Service.

Inside and Evote are among only a few online organizations that are running with the early results, which largely indicate that the presidential election is still very close. Others include Lucianne.com, a politics site run by Lucianne Goldberg, of Monica Lewinsky fame. The site stepped in to help out the Drudge Report, run by Matt Drudge, whose Web site has been down all day.

"We made the Want election news? Get it heredecision because the election was and still is very close," said Inside.com editor in chief Michael Hirschorn. "The civic argument that journalists can't reveal information because it'll depress voter turnout doesn't apply here. We can make the argument that this information will increase voter turnout."

Exit polls are questionnaires developed by Voter News Service, a consortium of the TV networks, cable news channels and the Associated Press. Voters fill out the polls as they leave the voting booths. Among the questions that appear is "Who did you vote for?" Based on the answers, the news service tries to predict a winner.

An early poll published by Inside showed Democrat Al Gore in front of Republican George W. Bush in Florida, a state with 25 electoral college votes. That result was seconded by major news sites including MSNBC.com about an hour after the ballots closed.

Early polls also showed Bush narrowly in front in the popular vote, with 48 percent to Gore's 47 percent.

In the 1980s, the TV networks promised to keep election results quiet after politicians in the West began complaining loudly that declaring winners before all polls closed depressed voter turnout in states like California, Washington and Oregon.

Microsoft-owned Slate.com broke with that tradition during the presidential primaries, leading Voter News Service to accuse the Web site of copyright infringement, unlawful interference with the service's contractual relations, and misappropriation of "hot news."

For that reason, Slate decided to back away from plans to post early results on Tuesday, according to its Web site.

Hirschorn said Inside is not one of the 100 subscribers to Voter News Service and therefore is not breaking any contracts. "We were inundated with emails and telephone calls from journalists who saw the report," he said. "We treated it like any other news story where a number of sources provided the same information, and we went with it."

Others, like widely read political site Mullings.com, said they will play by the rules and not leak voter results.

Controlling early poll results will become more difficult in the future, Hirschorn said.

"Once we move to real-time news and information becomes digitized, the idea that networks can control information becomes untenable," he said.