State’s computers slowed by Election Night crush

If you had trouble logging on to the Secretary of State’s official Web site on Election Night to see the latest election results, you weren’t alone.

The newly designed site was slowed to a crawl as people tried to access ballot results at the same time. Until 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 4, the highest level of earlier activity, as measured in bandwidth, was 5 million bits per second, or 5 megabits per second. Shortly after 8 p.m., when California’s polls closed, the usage soared to 80 mbps – the highest in the history of the office’s Web site and 16 times the level of the previous record. That translates into an enormous number of “hits,” or visits, to the site, although the exact number of visits is not yet clear.

State election officials, preparing for an unprecedented level of interest, had projected a maximum usage of 60 mbps, a 12-fold increase over the previous maximum — but the system still was overwhelmed.

The Secretary of State’s web site was designed to be fully redundant and to be able to lose a full half of its capacity and still withstand as much as eight times the normal traffic, officials said.

“This was a successful election where apparently record numbers of ballots were cast smoothly and results were tallied quickly and accurately. But even with those remarkable successes, we were not able to predict an unprecedented 16-fold increase in Election Day Internet traffic,” said state elections spokeswoman Kate Folmar.

It was not immediately possible to extrapolate from the bandwidth usage the precise number of people who visited the web site on election night. But it appeared likely that hundreds of thousands of people, perhaps even millions, contacted the site and went to multiple pages there.

On Election Night, in addition to the presidential returns, the office provided results updated every 10 minutes of a dozen ballot propositions, 53 Congressional races, 80 Assembly races and 20 state Senate races. The results included statewide and county-by-county totals, and separate pages for individual districts. More than 10 million people cast ballots.

A number of news organizations, facing deadlines, established their own back-up systems or went directly to the counties’ web sites for results. So did political professionals who were closely monitoring the results.

“At the end of the day, because we were persistent and had multiple machines, we were able to get what we needed. I understand that inside the secretary of state’s office, the system was working fine and you could get data, but to the external world it was pretty obvious there was a problem,” said Mark Bogetich, a Sacramento political consultant who frequently handles Republican clients.
“We were going to the individual counties and adding things up manually. It’s the old style, but it acted as a fail-safe system.” 

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