Case Study: Elections - 2005 & 2007

 Elections - 2005 The controller paid tribute to the election output at today's leadership group meeting. She was delighted with the ... quality of the stories, guests, graphics and on-line services. Michael Cairns, BBC Northern Ireland

In 2005 Propona was responsible for supplying the data entry system for the BBC’s coverage of the Northern Ireland local elections. The system allowed a team of fifteen operators to enter election results as they were announced and performed the processing necessary to send analysis of this data to the BBC’s website, CEEFAX, BBC Interactive and to the system responsible for generating the graphics live on air, via an XML feed.

The success of this project led to repeat work in 2007 for the Northern Ireland and bi-lingual Welsh Assembly elections.

The 2007 system comprised five key elements, building on the experience gained in 2005:

  1. A richer data entry system that tracked results at every stage of the single transferable vote system used in Northern Ireland.
  2. A “state of the election” results web site for internal BBC use which reported voting data broken down by constituency, party and candidate. The site also looked for interesting voting trends such as votes moving away from traditional parties.
  3. An administration web site to allow BBC staff to enter details of all constituencies, candidates (with their images) and parties running in the elections and to review data from the last election to ensure that swing and change statistics would be calculated correctly.
  4. Tools to allow the BBC’s in-studio team to manage the graphics used during the live election coverage with separate configured installations for Welsh and English language use.
  5. A light weight tool to allow transfer of data between ENPS (the BBC’s internal information portal) and the graphics system.

The first four systems were ASP.NET 2.0 web applications referencing a SQL Server 2005 database with regular scheduled backups and automatic transfer of these files during the live election broadcast. An identical “hot standby” server was also configured to allow all users to be switched to an identical backup system within five minutes in case of server failure.

The light weight tool was used principally for copying and pasting SMS messages received by the BBC and was a self-contained AJAX-enabled web application using an MS Access 2000 back end. All systems included a custom JavaScript control for managing special Welsh characters.

Communication between the data entry system and the election graphics system was by Windows sockets.

The output to the BBC’s web site, CEEFAX and BBC interactive was by XML file delivery to a shared file server. The XML delivered was for “rolled up” data rather than raw votes meaning that Propona’s data entry system was the sole component used during the election for “number crunching” and analysis of the data.

Full system and user documentation was produced and two training sessions ran with BBC staff before the election broadcasts. Two load tests were also ran with BBC volunteers.

Both systems were mission critical to the BBC’s coverage of the two elections and performed without issue during the live broadcasts.