New Zealand discovered voter fraud in an incredibly important election this year – the nomination for Bird of the Year. The Kiwi Pukupuku, otherwise known as the Little-Spotted Kiwi almost took home the prize, but Forest and Bird – the environmental conservation organization that handles the annual election – discovered 1,500 fraudulent votes for the flightless creature, according to a report.
“It's lucky we spotted this little kiwi trying to sneak in an extra 1500 votes under the cover of darkness!” says Laura Keown spokesperson for Bird of the Year. “But they’ll have to play by the rules like all of the other birds to win the competition."
The cheating votes were cast in the early hours of Monday – and for a moment, the little Kiwi was bumped to the top of the polls. While each voter is allowed to cast one vote per email address, an election spokesperson told CNN that the fraudulent votes were cast using fake email addresses that were all traced back to the same IP address in Auckland, New Zealand.
The organization has since removed those ballots.
Voters were allowed to rank their top 5 birds – and, so far, the election racked in 35,000 votes. The competition also allows international votes to be counted.
The country's Bird of the Year competition started in 2005 as a way to promote the country's over 200 species of native birds. An estimated 75% of land birds and 90% of seabirds are threatened or at risk of extinction, according to the organization.
The election comes weeks after the country's general election, which recently saw Prime minister Jacinda Ardern reelected, CNN reported.
There are no term limits in this election. Last year's champion and current incumbent is the Hoiho – otherwise known as the Yellow-Eyed Penguin. The breed, which last year only had 165 nests, exclusively lives and mates in New Zealand.
Voter fraud has happened before in the country's election. Most recently, in 2018, a voter in Perth cast a ballot for the Shag more than 300 times before election organizers caught them, the outlet reported.
Then, in 2015, two teenagers attempted to boost the vote for the Kokako, an endangered songbird, according to Radio New Zealand.
As for the little Kiwi, which is considered a national emblem that "represents [the country's] values of democracy, fairness, equality, and honesty", the fight is still on until Nov. 15.