Jim Hu

Staff Writer, CNET

News outlets are readying their Web operations to become real-time poll trackers and sources of analysis for what’s expected to be one of the closest, and most contentious, presidential elections in U.S. history.

Television networks in particular are taking a closer, more detailed look at how to report election results. In 2000, the networks were criticized for calling the election prematurely by declaring Al Gore president. Fox News later named George W. Bush the victor, causing networks such as ABC, NBC and CBS to retract their initial declarations.

In reality, the election was too close to call, leaving the results in a holding pattern for more than a month. Eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court declared Bush the winner.

Given recent polls that find President Bush and Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry in a dead heat, public consumption of up-to-the-minute news will be in high demand. That’s why TV networks and popular Web sites will rely on their online efforts for broader analysis and real-time updates.

Cable news rivals and are taking similar stabs at combining live video streams from their reporters with information graphics showing results in the presidential, congressional and gubernatorial elections. FoxNews will go a step further and report results from state referendums. Both sites will offer Congressional maps outlining the “balance of power” between the two parties in the House of Representatives and the Senate. is using its on-air talent to distinguish itself from its broadcast brethren. NBC News anchors and analysts will contribute through their own blogs, such as “Hardball” commentator Chris Matthews’ “Hardblogger,” and MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann’s “Bloggermann.”

Online information outlets will be weighing in as well. America Online will offer live broadcasts of ABC News Now, the broadcast network’s 24-hour TV and streaming video news station. AOL will program analysis into the video window by launching instant polls, charts and links based on ABC’s video reports. Besides tracking tallies from each state, AOL will link to popular political blogs and message boards for voter discussion.

Yahoo is doing what it usually does by aggregating outside syndicated news sources, such as the Associated Press, Reuters and AFP. Like other sites, Yahoo will present an electoral map, stream live video, link to prominent political blogs and display photo slide shows.

The Gallup Organization, the venerated polling service, itself is trying to present an unbiased portrayal of the election and the public’s opinion. The service has already begun streaming reports from prominent pollsters, reporting on results from recent surveys and attempting to portray objective political trends.

“We stand for the truth rather than the way Fox News and Rush (Limbaugh) have their slant to it, and the New York Times and CNN lean to the left,” said Gallup CEO Jim Clifton.