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Web poll results doctored, explained

On this page in last week’s issue of the Courier, we posted a notice about the weekly poll on our website, encouraging our readers to visit and vote.    The web poll is one way that we attempt to drive traffic to the site and get our readers involved with current issues and events.  It is sometimes serious and at other times a little on the light side.

The question last week was “For which Democrat candidate for sheriff will you vote on August 2?”  Of course the answers were incumbent Harold Jones, and challengers John Goza and James Jefferson, Jr.  

By Thursday evening visitors to had set a record for the number of total votes cast in the web poll, numbering nearly 1,400.  On Friday the total was nearly 6,000.  By Sunday afternoon, some 20,000 votes had been cast.  The number of votes usually cast in our weekly web polls is between 30 and 50, with a previous high of around 150.

Over the weekend, I figured that by Monday that the number of visitors to our website in that four day period was certainly going to be in the tens of thousands–also a record.  But, then, on Monday, the truth of it all was revealed and reminded me just how fanatical folks can be during a local election year.

We track our website’s statistics through Google Analytics.  Late Sunday, I checked it  and made an astonishing discovery.  Long story short the number of recorded visits to the site weren’t matching up with the number of votes. The difference was unbelievable–hundreds of visits, compared to tens of thousands of votes.  In fact, Goza  had gotten 16,420, Sheriff Jones 2,991 and Jefferson, Jr. 672.

Correspondence between myself and our website administrator slowly showed why this had happened.  (The disclaimer is we can control the number of votes from a particular IP address–which may be shared by several computers in one setting.  On Friday morning, I instructed the software to allow on one vote per IP.)  The tech guy said Monday morning that on Thursday, Friday and Saturday “there were tons of multiple votes from singular IP addresses.  One in particular voted 11,195 times.”

“Hmmmmm . . . have local election cycles become so competitive that we now have web poll election fraud?”, I thought.

The tech guy explained that it was likely that a person enacted a piece of software that was able to get around the one-vote-per IP limit in our admin section and directed the software to submit the same vote over and over to the tune of nearly 11,200 times.  Tech Guy was on his way to a convention and couldn’t explain it great detail to me–not that I would even be able understand it.

All I know is that what appeared to be a successful attempt by this newspaper publisher and his staff  on Wednesday to engage and awaken the voting public–and to unscientifically measure the pulse of said voting public in a certain race–turned out to be a chance for a person or persons to manipulate said voting public into believing that a certain result had been achieved.      Many, many folks were stirred up on all sides, all for a big lie.

So, I’d like to apologize to the sheriff’s candidates and to those who truthfully participated in last week’s public web poll on our website.  We are working not only to correct this obvious security issue in our website, but also to figure out exactly where the IP address is and possibly the person or persons that fooled us.

No, this whole episode doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of life, but it has revealed much about how local politics can turn some into downright fanatics.

Joe Buck Coates

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