A vote-rigging scandal has rocked New Zealand’s “bird of the year” competition.
Organisers for the annual contest—now in its 15th year—announced on Tuesday that they had discovered more than 1,500 fraudulent votes cast for the Kiwi pukupuku, or little-spotted kiwi. It’s not clear who was responsible for the fraud, nor their motivations for stacking the votes in the kiwi’s favour.
“It’s lucky we spotted this little kiwi trying to sneak in an extra 1,500 votes under the cover of darkness!” said Laura Keown, spokesperson for bird of the year, after organisers noticed the influx of fake votes on Monday night. The votes briefly pushed the nominee to the top of the preferred bird leaderboard, but have since been removed.
Forest and Bird's Bird of the Year competition has become a national obsession in recent times, with this year’s polls attracting a record number of early voters. As of Tuesday afternoon, 40,000 ballots had been cast with five days still to go.
Voting is based on a similar system to that which is used in local elections, with voters given the option to cast their ballot for a maximum of five local birds, in order of preference. Winners in the past few years have included the yellow-eyed penguin; the kererū, New Zealand’s only native pigeon that’s well-known for getting drunk on fermented fruit; and the kea, otherwise known as “the clown of the mountains” which, in 2009, famously attempted to shag the head of Stephen Fry’s photographer.
Early voting indicates that this year’s favourites are the toroa (Antipodean albatross) and the kakapo, a heavy flightless parrot. But this isn’t the first time the competition has been hit with a voting scandal.
In 2015 two teenage girls tried to rig the results in favour of the kōkako; in 2017 a number of fake email accounts were created to boost the polls in favour of the white-faced heron; and in 2018 someone voted for the shag more than 3,000 times.
"Voter fraud is not the kiwi way,” said kiwi pukupuku campaign manager Emma Rawson. "As Aotearoa's national emblem, little-spotted kiwi represents New Zealanders' values of democracy, fairness, equality, and honesty."
This year’s polls have also seen certain nominees attract endorsements from unlikely commercial sponsors, with New Zealand’s Adult Toy Megastore pledging their support for the hihi: a “polyamorous, sexually fluid bird with big testicles” that is also the only bird in the world to mate face-to-face.
“We are proud to endorse the hihi for bird of the year 2020,” Adult Toy Megastore said in their endorsement. “Hihi lead the sex positivity movement among songbirds and for that we salute them and say to you: VOTE HIHI.”
“Male hihi have testicles four times larger than they should be making them, by size, the largest testicles on a bird in the world!” they added. “How could you not vote for them?”
Voting for this year’s preferred bird closes at midnight on Sunday, 15 November—although it’s unlikely New Zealanders will know the final result until the competition’s complicated preferential balloting system is worked through and all the votes are properly counted.
Follow Gavin on Twitter