All the News That's Print to Fit
Bringing an Election to the Masses

During the Presidential Election I did not get to drink heavily and ignore the whole affair. Nor did I get to watch The Daily Show coverage of the event. I spent the entire fiasco with a small army of network engineers, technology experts, and content writers babysitting a news organization's web site as it handled the onslaught of voters(?) checking results.

My first day on site I got the tour of the studios and news rooms (not the crappy tour that the tourists get - I got to walk on sets while filming was happening and everything). I was also shown the server room ("These are our 70+ Solaris boxes, this is our OC-12 line and our four or five OC-3 lines.") I was of course duly impressed by the scale of the whole affair.

Since all preparations that could have been made were already done, the day before the Election was spent milling about waiting for something - anything - to happen. Most of the small army went home early and didn't plan to get into the office until 12:00 on Nov. 7 ("I figure I'll be here until at least midnight, so I see no reason to hurry in."). I spent the late afternoon and early evening drinking pints of Guinness and then I caught my first hockey game ("When do the Home Runs happen?"). Never, never buy food at a hockey game.

I didn't come into the office until 13:00 on Election Day. I spent most of my afternoon playing with my web server (this one - the one that this content you're reading came from) and waiting for the polls along the Eastern States to begin posting results. A casual glance at the health of the news servers showed that we were already pushing the site record and that everything looked healthy.

Then everything turned exciting. Here's how the next day or two looked:

18:00 (Eastern), Nov. 7
Florida belongs to Gore
CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, etc are estimating that Gore will take Florida. We're pushing 1.5 times the previous traffic record (1.5R) across the server farm. The (expansively) broad pipes aren't even half full and the web servers haven't cracked a sweat.

Florida is undecided
We're now pushing 2R and are beginning to log errors, but only from two of three banks of servers. Much yelling, frantic network diagnostics, and brute-force troubleshooting ("I don't care! Just unplug the damn machine from the network!") shows a switch has failed and is causing a good portion of the servers to be unable to effectively reply to requests (they reply but it takes a long time for the data to get out to the browser). The switch is replaced and all is good.

02:30, Nov. 8
Florida and the Presidency belong to Bush
All the news organizations break the news at the same time - Florida is estimated to belong to Bush and with it he takes the Presidency.

We've hit our peak load of nearly 2.5R. We're running at approximately 75% of our total network capacity (although several of the OC-3 lines are filled to capacity). The servers are all very happy. We bitch about the horse-brained masses, we speculate that since the popular vote is split nearly 50/50 that almost everyone was a dumb-ass and flipped a quarter in the booth. We shuffle off to the hotel for much needed sleep.

Florida is too close to call
Glancing at CNN's coverage on the hotel TV I see that Florida is no longer being called in favor of Bush and that, amazingly, there's only 700 votes separating the candidates (this later becomes 1,700). For a very brief moment I contemplate going back to the office. I quickly think better of this plan and go to bed. I watch the news while I fall asleep.

Out of nearly six million votes cast, there's approximately 1,600 that separate Bush and Gore. In Florida there's a law that automatically requires a recount in cases where there is less than a half of a percent separating the front runner from the runner-up. -- Some Florida official being interviewed

Are we in that situation here? -- A very tired CNN anchor conducting the interview

A forgotten ballet box has been found
The small army of geeks is slowly rolling back into the office. The servers stayed alive for six hours without our babysitting them, and the second/third shifts of news flunkies are looking for new things to say about Florida being too close to call and also being the lynch pin of the election. Much to their delight Florida announces that it found a "lost box of ballots." The servers are pushing 800,000 hpm and not breaking a sweat.

Voters are too dim to notice they're voting for Buchanan
Even better than the Florida stories about lost ballot boxes is the new report - "In one county the ballots are so confusingly designed that people who thought they were voting for Gore were actually voting for Buchanan. Upon realizing their mistake in the parking lot ("by talking to their husbands" said some some Floridan Congressman) they became hysterical. What dumb-asses. Why don't people read the instructions and double-check their work before committing it?

Still too close to call
The servers experience their first glitch. A quick hour of experimentation and a few hurried phone calls with the home office finds a fast way to work around the problem. This is put into place and we all shuffle off to homes or hotels.

07:30 Nov. 9
Florida resumes the recount
Since the servers have, as a whole, behaved exactly as expected, I am released to return home. I'm sitting on a plane somewhere over what looks like North Dakota. It's cold and featureless and I'm darn glad I don't live there.

At the time of this writing we still don't know who the next President is, but it looks like it'll be Bush by a margin of less than 2,000 votes in Florida.

All of you that said "I'm voting for Nader so that I can send a message to Washington - besides, my vote won't change anything" I want you to remember these words as the next three Supreme Court justices are appointed by Bush and approved by the slim majority of Republicans in Congress. No, Gore's not perfect, but he's damn sure better than Bush will be. Just remember that Gore lost by less than 2,000 votes while Nader received more than 90,000.

Disclaimer: Everything that lives on this server is my personal responsibility. My employer, Netscape Communications/AOL/Sun\/Netscape Alliance/iPlanet, doesn't know or care about it. If that multi-headed beast did know about this site it probably would deny agreeing with or disagreeing with any of the opinions that I might voice here. So there.