Barely an election goes past without an allegation of meddling or cheating, but one might imagine that a Bird of the Year poll would be less controversial.
Organizers of New Zealand’s annual contest, though, which seeks to raise awareness of the antipodean nation’s native birds, their habitats and the threats they face, went on Twitter earlier this week to call out “310 dubious votes” for the shag, a type of cormorant also known as a kawau.
Submitted from an IP address in Australia on Wednesday night, the suspect votes were spotted and shut down by the contest’s official scrutineers, Dragonfly Data Sciences.
The shag is just one of 61 contenders in the vote, which is staged by Forest & Bird, a leading conservation organization in New Zealand. Voters were invited to support the campaign by choosing the bird they deem most deserving of the spotlight. The event also aims to raise vital funds for the country’s threatened bird population – a third of which are at risk of extinction.
Supporters of the shag are not the only ones who have tried to beat the system, according to the organizers who publicly named and shamed the cheaters on Twitter. Sixteen other #naughtybirds were listed, though none came close to amassing quite as many questionable supporters – the blue duck was the second-highest offender with 28 problematic ballots.
This annual poll, which has been running since 2005, has ruffled fedathers before. Last year more than 100 fraudulent votes were logged for the white-faced heron, while some contestants received abuse from online trolls. In 2015 an attempt was also made to rig the poll in favor of the Kōkako.
Last year’s shady goings-on spurred the promoters to call in Dragonfly for the company’s expertise in statistical analysis.
This year’s competition has gained traction online after British comedians Stephen Fry and Bill Bailey cast their votes for their favored feathered friends: the kakapo and the takahē, respectively. Meanwhile, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has backed the black petrel.
The voting, which opened this week, closes on October 15. The winner will be revealed the following day. The kereru is the current favorite, with more than 3,000 votes as of Friday afternoon.