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September 21, 2009

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Germany worried about leaks of exit polls

GERMAN pollsters and television networks are tightening their security for next Sunday's federal election to prevent exit data leaking out on the Twitter social networking site before polls close.

Only a handful of people at polling institutes and networks will see exit data before it is broadcast after voting stations close, the pollsters and networks said.

"The number of people who will have knowledge of our exit poll numbers will be strictly limited," Nikolaus Brender, editor-in-chief of state-owned ZDF network, told Reuters. "Just two or three people will see our exit poll in advance. In theory it's possible (for numbers to be leaked) but it's unlikely. Any numbers on Twitter will be pure speculation, someone making a best guess."

Concerns about a leak have been running high in Germany after a Twitter entry an hour before polls closed in a state election last month proved only about one percentage point off the first exit polls broadcast.

Germany's chief electoral commissioner, Roderich Egeler, warned pollsters and networks after that incident to ensure data was not leaked - an offence punishable by fines of up to 50,000 euros (US$73,500).

In the past, exit poll data was distributed to a small circle of political leaders and journalists who held it on embargo until polls closed.

"It's all nonsense," said Manfred Guellner, head of the Forsa polling institute. "They're making a mountain out of a molehill. Nothing leaked out last month. Nothing on Twitter was accurate.

"If some idiot writes a number on Twitter based on an opinion poll from a week ago, you can't stop him."

Guellner said he was the only person at Forsa who would see its exit poll data in advance, and even if a number leaked on Twitter before polls closed, it would not affect the election outcome.

"What would happen if 100,000 people on Twitter saw an entry that one party or another was ahead?" Guellner said. "Would they then organize a mass run to vote in the last hour? How would they know who hadn't voted? How could they organize it? I don't see how it could affect the outcome."


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