Blog post becomes a whale of a news story

A few days ago, blogger Stefan Sharkansky noticed a major glitch in an online election which allowed people to vote for their favorites design for what would become Washington's State Quarter:

Unfortunately, like all other Washington elections, this one is on the honor system and appears to be hijacked by those who do not follow the rules. Mrs. Gregoire's instructions say "Please only vote one time per person". But the system appears to allow people to vote as many times as they want to, or even run scripts that automatically vote repeatedly.
Nice work!

And now, Stefan's investigative blog journalism turned into such a big news story that I learned about it from my local CBS news site:

Robotic computer programs stuffed the online ballot boxes in a contest for Washington's official state quarter design, forcing technicians to suspend voting.

State officials overseeing the balloting realized something was fishy when the contest, launched last Thursday, swelled to more than 1 million votes over the weekend. They stopped Web-based voting Monday so technicians could retool it.

The opinion poll reappeared Tuesday afternoon, but the earlier results and an up-to-the-minute vote tally were abandoned. Computer users attempting to cast a second vote were greeted with a message thanking them for their earlier participation.


Stefan Sharkansky, a computer software consultant and conservative blogger, noted the online vote's susceptibility Sunday after getting tips from readers.

The three quarter designs featured on the Web site are finalists to grace the back of Washington's official quarter, which the U.S. Mint expects to release next March.

While I think KYW should have given Stefan a link at their web site, at least they acknowledged his role.

For his part, Stefan remains modest, giving credit to a commenter:

As I told Woodward, the real credit for discovering that the poll was being played goes to Jeff Boly, who reported this in the open comment thread on Saturday afternoon.
What about the design? There seem to be three choices, one of which seems a bit silly:

design1_poll.JPG design2_poll.JPG design3_poll.JPG

What attracted Stefan's attention also attracted mine: the kookiest design -- a whale that looks for the world like a goofy airplane but is described as "A stylized American Indian-style drawing of a playful killer whale, spouting water and raising its tail flukes" -- was winning! As Stefan noted, the vote numbers were "increasing by more than 20 per second, strongly suggesting that one or more robots are stacking the vote."

Robots stacking the vote for whales that look like goofy airplanes? What kind of democracy is that?

Who would have such an interest in corrupting an online quarter election? I think we need to ask who benefits the most from a goofy coin design.

Numismatists, perhaps? If the coin turned out to be a laughingstock, it might not see as much circulation, and might even be recalled.

A quarter for your thoughts.

posted by Eric on 04.12.06 at 09:36 AM


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Tracked on April 19, 2006 8:18 AM


'What attracted Stefan's attention also attracted mine: the kookiest design -- a whale that looks for the world like a goofy airplane but is described as "A stylized American Indian-style drawing of a playful killer whale, spouting water and raising its tail flukes" -- was winning!'

It looks like my 3-yr old daughter drew it.

bandit   ·  April 12, 2006 11:16 AM

Blame the spambots at Boeing

charlie   ·  April 12, 2006 12:48 PM

[Cookie-Chainsaw-Randall]I like the whale![/Cookie-Chainsaw-Randall]

Alan Kellogg   ·  April 12, 2006 1:41 PM

As with, I think, every other state that's run a poll on their quarter design, the state'll choose the one they want, regardless of the vote. I expect people stuffed the ballot-box for the goofy one because they like goofy.

Ed Flinn   ·  April 12, 2006 2:16 PM

I stuff the online ballot every year for the MLB All-Stars. I only vote for the National half and fill it out with all Reds players.

Adam   ·  April 12, 2006 3:18 PM

None of those is as awful as the Helen Keller quarter, and it's still around, so I wouldn't worry about numismatists.

I think the whale one might even be the best, from a pure design standpoint.

(And if your three year old can do traditional northwest native art, she's drawing well above her age, eh?

I've never really liked the NW native style, but that whale isn't childish or poorly done. It's a perfectly good design, from the graphical standpoint, and has absolutely competent line and proportion.)

And it's better than that god-damned melange with the outline of the state behind it, and not really any wose than the salmon-and-St.Helens design with the motto.

And, hey, like I said - it's no Helen Keller.

Sigivald   ·  April 12, 2006 3:25 PM

"What kind of democracy is that?"
MY kind of democracy; less depressingly predictable than our current version. All hail goofy airplane-like-whale-lovin' robots!
"I've said it before and I'll say it again: democracy just doesn't work"
- Kent Brockman

B Hayward   ·  April 12, 2006 4:44 PM

That's a pretty common design in the pacific northwest. At my high school kids were designing stencils of stuff pretty much like that at lunch break: the orca design was a perennial favorite. I always thought they were just copying from the totem poles, but what the hell, there's nothing new under the sun, right?

This is more like what I remember:

I agree with Sigivald: the whale design is the least bad of the three. And if the robots like it, who am I to complain?

Anonymous   ·  April 12, 2006 10:48 PM

I prefer the middle design. It will take to a quarter well. The whale design is all right, but it's very much biased towards the western end of the state (the Eastern Washington Indians have different history, but salmon plays largely into the myths of the whole state.)

Maybe it would work better for Alaska.

The California quarter was voted on, and the state overwhelmingly picked a 49'er prospector. Governor Grey Davis decided that the John Muir quarter— a nice design, but not the one voted on— would be the quarter, and so it was.

And we've already established that the Washington governor's office doesn't pay attention to votes, right?

B. Durbin   ·  April 13, 2006 9:30 PM

I had snark tags around that last paragraph. I guess it thought they were real tags.

B. Durbin   ·  April 13, 2006 9:31 PM

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