Referendum online a hit

The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC)'s virtual tally room for the republic referendum has set a new record for the largest live internet event in Australia, according to the commission's preliminary figures.

More than 154,000 users accessed the site between 6pm and 12am on the night of the referendum.

That corresponded to 8.5 million hits and more than 1.3 million page views. Based on these figures, the site eclipsed the previous record for the largest live Internet event in Australia, which coincidentally, was the AEC's 1998 Federal Election site, which recorded eight million hits and 82,500 users.

At its busiest time (about 8pm Sydney time) more than 5000 visitors per second visited the site, said the AEC's assistant director of information, Sylvana Puizina.

"We have been very impressed with the results. The site ran very well. Response times were good and the direct feed and updates also went really well," Puizina said.

While the majority of visitors to the site came from Australia, surprisingly, almost a quarter came from the US, while another ten per cent were from the rest of the world. As for when Queen Elizabeth and others in the UK, logged on to find out about the vote, Puizina pointed out that because of time differences, visitors from the UK were not expected to frequent the site until the early hours of Sunday, Sydney time.

Results from the referendum were compiled into the AEC's main computer system then provided to the virtual tally room via an internet-based feed and results system developed and produced by the Edime Internet agency. The results were then verified and compiled for the Internet.

Alta Internet business centers in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra hosted the site through a 100Mbit link to Telstra, and a 155Mbit link into Optus. The Sydney centers, with a 155Mbit-bandwidth capacity servicing users from NSW, Queensland and overseas, was capable of serving up to 20,000 users per second at peak usage across 24 Web servers.

"I think the success of the virtual tallyroom facility augurs well for the future of election and referendum results on the Internet," said Edime's managing director, Marcus Dawe.

"It probably also goes a long way in supporting moves towards online voting systems, a possibility the ACT Government is already investigating," he said.

However, despite the success of the AEC online projects, Puizina said that the commission had to overcome a number of issues in regards to online polling.

"Just about every electoral body around the world is looking at online polling. However, we would have to overcome a number of considerations before its introduction, such as marking voters off a role and disassociating names from particular votes."

Puizina also pointed out that online polling would necessitate the introduction of new legislation.

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