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(BNN) — The voting system for Forest & Bird’s annual Bird of the Year competition has been beefed up this year, following a long history of voting fraud.

Voting scandals, and the pun-filled headlines they produce, have a long history within Bird of the Year. But some humans are getting increasingly frustrated that New Zealand’s most important election is being jeopardised by a basic lack of security.

A brief history of voting scandals

The competition’s first scandal hit in 2008 when Kākāpō was accused by Takahē of accepting undeclared political donations from wealthy migratory birds living in Monaco. Despite these allegations, Kākāpō went on to win after it was cleared by the Serious Feathered Fraud Office (SFFO).

Two years later in 2010, the kakariki was accused of fowl play after claims of cyber-bots placing fraudulent votes surfaced. This led to a commitment from Forest & Bird to ramp up security in the following year.

However, in 2011, there was a scandal of a different sort when an emperor penguin showed up on the Kapiti Coast. Nicknamed Happy Feet, it made national and international headlines after it was rescued and operated on by the Wellington Zoo. Some successfully called for the emperor penguin to be added to the competition, though it was removed in the following year.

“Happy Feet” the emperor penguin on Pekapeka Beach near Kapiti where he was found eating sand and sticks.

Three years later, in 2015, it was revealed that two teenagers from Auckland had made over 200 fraudulent votes for the kokako. They had used their father’s business account to make fake email addresses which they painstakingly trawled through to confirm the votes. This was picked up by 15-year-old Oscar Thomas who was campaigning for the kokako to win.

“The council of kokako does not condone this whatsoever and we’re surprised someone would rig such a light-hearted contest and taint the name of such a beautiful bird,” said Oscar Thomas, who was insistent on protecting the kōkako’s integrity.

The kokako was briefly reprimanded for voting fraud but was released after a brief investigation. Photo: Fionnaigh McKenzie

In 2017, another scandal left the white-faced heron rather red-faced after 112 fraudulent votes were made for the white-faced heron using internet bots from an IP address in Christchurch. However, the same IP address had also voted for the kereru using a legitimate email address, leading some to claim it was an exploratory exercise to place fake votes for the kereru campaign. However, the culprit eventually confessed to their crime four months later, clearing the kereru’s name.

The spike in white-faced heron votes was picked up by Yvan Richards, a human working for Dragonfly Data Science. He had been plotting the results of the election by scraping the information from Bird of the Year’s website. Upon seeing a sudden spike in the votes, he contacted Forest & Bird who took swift action to remove the votes.

Following this, Richards was brought on as an independent scrutineer to monitor votes and alert Forest & Bird about any other voting scandals. Despite this, a third voting scandal surfaced in 2018 when 310 fraudulent votes were placed for the shag from an IP address in Australia.

A new voting system and increased security

This year, Forest & Bird has responded to voter frustrations by introducing additional security.

Voters are sent a confirmation email (that often ends up in their junk folder) with a code that must be entered for a vote to be finalised.

However, some hackers reportedly see this as a challenge. Whether they succeed is anyone’s guess.

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