Online voting for state quarter hijacked

/ Source: The Associated Press

Talk about your two-bit schemes. Robotic computer programs stuffed the online ballot boxes in a contest for Washington's official state quarter design over the weekend, forcing technicians to suspend voting Monday while they retooled the Web-based poll.

State officials overseeing the balloting realized something was fishy when the poll, launched last Thursday, swelled to more than 1 million votes during the weekend.

The State Quarter Advisory Commission initially allowed an unlimited number of votes from a single Internet address so family members sharing a computer could each register their favorite, spokesman Mark Gerth said.

But that philosophy was abandoned after the weekend's voting, which showed some computers casting repeated choices for a quarter design faster than humanly possible.

"You could sit there and watch 200 votes appear over the course of a couple of minutes, obviously going a little too fast," Gerth said.

Technicians reworking the Web site's computer code hoped to restore the poll by Tuesday.

Stefan Sharkansky, a computer software consultant and conservative blogger, noted the online poll's susceptibility to such automatic voting scripts on Sunday after getting tips from readers.

"Clearly, the votes were going up by 20 a second, which is not a plausible number," Sharkansky said Monday.

"We hadn't counted on, I guess, the over-enthusiasm of people," Gerth said.

The three quarter designs featured on the Web site are finalists to grace the back of Washington's official quarter, expected to be released by the U.S. Mint in March 2007.

The choices are:

  • A leaping salmon breaching the water in front of a conifer-trimmed Mount Rainier.
  • An American Indian-style drawing of a playful killer whale, spouting water and raising its tail flukes.
  • A salmon, apples and Mount Rainier within an outline of the state.

The two designs featuring salmon also incorporate "The Evergreen State" as a motto.

The advisory commission, headed by honorary chairman and first gentleman Mike Gregoire, plans to consider the public polling when it chooses its favorite design.

That recommendation will be forwarded to Gov. Chris Gregoire, who has the final say.

The orca design was winning in the altered voting before officials pulled the plug, and technical workers were looking for ways to purge the clearly invalid votes from the totals before restarting the poll.

"If we can, we'll just leave in the legitimate votes," Gerth said.