Presidential election nights are a feast for some and a nightmare of confusion for others. Confusion is fostered by television and radio news departments playing “hide the ball” rather than simply providing up to the minute vote counts and what they mean for the outcome. The best way to track a large number of national, state and local races on election night is via Twitter. People tweet new numbers in every contest as soon as they emerge, and I found in the recent Venezuelan election that Twitter provided information well ahead of the New York Times and national websites. These tweets almost always include the link that allows you to check the numbers on your own. If you don’t use Twitter, go to sites like dailykos.com, whose diarists provide up to the minute numbers on all relevant national races. In California, go directly to the Secretary of State’s election website and those of your local Department of Elections. If you lack computer access, go to an election party for up to the minute results. And if you want to see politicians giving victory and concession statements, watch television.

A great feature of new media is that it has freed us from the traditional media’s information monopoly on election nights. There is no reason to squander time watching talking head pundits on CNN or other networks, as you can get the up to the minute numbers yourself and better analysis through your phone or computer.

The Twitter Advantage

After relying on twitter in local, state, national and international elections over the past year, it’s hard to see why an election junkie would go anywhere else. If you are not following people who regularly post numbers, simply type in “Elizabeth Warren” or any other candidate you are interested in into the search box and you will immediately get up to the minute tweets on the vote count and what it means.

These tweets typically link to the raw data, so there’s no risk of being deceived. This is in sharp contrast to television news, where anchors routinely insist races are “too close to call” regardless of the facts in order to keep viewers watching.

Twitter’s advantage in election reporting is both its speed and the quality of those tweeting results. Markos Moulitsas, founder of Daily Kos, is tweeting numbers before they appear on his site, and this is true for most other online sources.

Twitter produces numbers far ahead of traditional media. FOX News, CNN and other television news stations are so busy hearing from pundits that they treat providing numbers like an interruption rather than the goal.

If you do not start election night knowing the websites of the elections departments in the many states you are following races, no problem---you can get all these sites off of tweets.

Alternatives to Twitter

The second fastest numbers can be gained from Dailykos.com. This is the most logical go to site for progressives, as it will give numbers on all races of progressive concern and explain what these numbers mean for the outcome. Dailykos diarists inevitably include people who have spent their entire lives in the particular district or state in play, and who know exactly what votes from certain precincts mean.

Daily Kos can be overly filled with election minutia, but election night is when these insights really come in handy. The lead diarists on dailykos will be tweeting all evening, but those without Twitter should go to the site.

Because California’s numbers come in after midnight east coast time, the best alternative to twitter is the Secretary of State’s election results site. San Francisco results are at the Department of Elections site, and Alameda County results can be found here.

Historically, San Francisco has the slowest counting election results in California, if not the nation. I recall elections where San Jose counted 100% of its votes while San Francisco had only processed its first batch of absentees. It’s gotten faster in recent years, and the results could be more illuminating as this will be the first time that ranked-choice tabulations will occur on election night.

But given the huge number of absentees that arrive on Election Day in San Francisco, it should again take a few days for final outcomes for all key local races.

Television’s Offerings

Expect all television news coverage outside MSNBC to spend considerable time discussing Hurricane Sandy’s impact on the presidential race. FOX News has been nonstop on this false explanation for Obama’s likely win, and their framing typically gets picked up by other television news stations.

Only MSNBC will conclude that Obama’s victory was ideological, and was based on more voters supporting his vision for America over Romney’s.

We’ll have all of the most up to the minute results in Wednesday’s issue.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron