It’s an election scandal with allegations of “illegal voting” and thousands of ballots being dumped in the dead of night.
No, not the US election and Joe Biden’s sudden pre-dawn breakthrough in swing states. This is an election far closer to home and, for some, just as nailbiting.
New Zealand’s Bird of the Year competition has been rocked, positively scandalised, with revelations a slew of fraudulent votes streamed in overnight for the pukupuku, aka the little spotted kiwi, catapulting it into an unexpected – and false – lead.
“It‘s lucky we spotted this little kiwi trying to sneak in an extra 1500 votes under the cover of darkness,” Bird of the Year spokeswoman Laura Keown said.
It’s just the latest vote rigging drama to besmirch the long-running annual avian election in Aotearoa. In previous years, similar poll peculiarities have surfaced; some traced across the Ditch – proof it seems that Australia is meddling in others elections.
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Bird of the Year is big news in New Zealand. It’s sometimes regarded as second only to the, you know, actual election.
Organised since 2005, environmental body Forest and Bird asks Kiwis to choose which feathered friend should be crowned the best bird of the cloudy isles. NZ is home to 168 native birds, including 93 which are found nowhere else on earth.
In its first year, less than 1000 people voted; in 2019 it was close to 50,000 – that’s more than the votes cast in some local elections in New Zealand’s cities.
Celebrities and politicians all wade in and national television covers the contest, analysing the results. New Zealand’s embassy around the world choose their favourite.
DEAD OF NIGHT VOTE DUMPS
The campaigns for each candidate – whether the birds know it or not – can be passionate with many species having their own human campaign manager who rustles up support for their favoured robin, wren or warbler.
But sometimes, sadly, that passion can turn to cheating.
Scrutineers first became suspicious when the little spotted kiwi made a phoenix like comeback from the flames of electoral disaster.
At the halfway point of voting, last week, the Antipodean albatross, the kakapo flightless parrot and the black robin were all leading the ladder. The kiwi wasn’t even in the top 10.
Then, between 1am and 3am on Monday morning, 1500 votes came in for the lesser kiwi propelling it, like Mr Biden in Michigan, to an overnight lead.
Unlike the President-elect, however, where no hard proof has emerged of anything other than mail-in votes being tallied, the bird’s suspicious surge led poll watchers to be perplexed by the pukupuku’s performance.
Forest and Bird’s Ms Keown said an alert scrutineer noticed the anomaly.
“It’s extremely easy for him to see when there’s a flood of illegal votes coming through.”
Initial investigations suggested a single computer used a program to cast thousands of votes “really quickly”.
“We can only assume that they love birds so much, and they are so excited about protecting our native species that they try these fraudulent tactics,” a thoroughly unimpressed Ms Keown said.
“Stop the count!” urged the New Zealand Herald.
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At this point police have not been called in and court action is considered unlikely. But the votes have been struck from the kiwi’s column, sending it far down the leaderboard.
The campaign manager for the little spotted kiwi, Emma Rawson, told website stuff.co.nz she was appalled by the poll rigging.
“As Aotearoa’s national emblem, little spotted kiwi represents New Zealanders‘ values of democracy, fairness, equality, and honesty.
“We don’t condone the illegal votes cast towards our cute little bird.”
It’s just the latest scandal to envelop the Bird of the Year as some over excited ornithologists sink to nefarious levels to win the election.
In 2015, 2017 and 2018 voting irregularities were found including one instance when two teenagers had used their father’s computer to make multiple email address so they could vote on numerous occasions for the white faced heron.
At times, it’s caused ructions to trans-Tasman relation. In 2018, 310 votes for the shag mysteriously appeared from an IP address in Australia.
Last year, the eventual winner was the hoiho/yellow eyed penguin.
But 2018’s champion raised eyebrows when the kereru, the nation’s native pigeon, prevailed. It is the hoodlum of the bird world and is known to gorge on so much bounteous fermented fruit it can fall, drunk, from its perch. It has been seen to stumble around the ground aimlessly and possibly swearing, in pigeon pidgin naturally.