German exit polls leak via Twitter

Berlin, Aug 31 (DPA) Data from exit polls in Germany was widely distributed via the online service Twitter Sunday, breaking a confidentiality law and upsetting electoral officials.

The data was embargoed until 6 p.m. (1600 GMT) Sunday when polls closed, but began coursing hours earlier through Twitter, a web service that broadcasts very short personal messages. The originator of the initial message was anonymous.

Survey companies compute the most likely poll outcome about four hours before voting booths close, based on interviews with voters who have just cast their ballots.

The surveys are commissioned by television channels, which say that hundreds of people working on news desks can see it before it is flashed on television screens.

Politicians have often demanded access to the data too, so they can reflect on the results before commenting.

The pre-released data described vote shares in state legislative elections in Saarland, Saxony and Thuringia.

Germany bans early release of exit polls for fear that it might persuade people to change their minds about how to vote, or spur canvassers to summon voters late in the day.

Ralf Burmester, a lawyer, said election officers could fine offenders up to 50,000 euros ($72,000), since elections might not be deemed fair and free if the data leaked before time.

Roderich Egeler, federal election commissioner, warned recently that a leak of exit data could even torpedo the September 27 federal election this year.