Voter Fraud Ruffles New Zealand 'Bird Of The Year' Competition The little spotted kiwi soared in the rankings before election organizers discovered 1,500 fraudulent votes placed for the flightless bird.
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Voter Fraud Ruffles New Zealand 'Bird Of The Year' Competition

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Voter Fraud Ruffles New Zealand 'Bird Of The Year' Competition

Voter Fraud Ruffles New Zealand 'Bird Of The Year' Competition

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A disputed campaign, election fraud, stuffing ballot boxes - of course, we're talking about the vote for New Zealand's 2020 Bird of the Year. The voting ends tomorrow, but there has been chicanery, surprises and a coveted endorsement from a sex toy shop. Is there anything else we could say to get you interested?

Joining us now from Nelson, New Zealand, is Laura Keown, who's spokesperson for Bird of the Year - happens to be originally from Oregon, so don't be disappointed if she sounds that way. Thanks so much for being with us.

LAURA KEOWN: Yeah, it's my pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: And we should point out this contest has a very serious purpose, doesn't it?

KEOWN: Absolutely. Bird of the Year is run by Forest & Bird, which is New Zealand's oldest independent conservation organization. And it's really our way of promoting native birds. The more that we know about our native species and how in trouble they are, then the more people will want to protect them and support our conservation efforts into the future.

SIMON: Well, tell us now about the chicanery, the charges of fraud, what's been going on. For example, votes for the little spotted kiwi raised an alarm, I gather.

KEOWN: We got a little over 1,500 fraudulent votes all flooding in from the same email address in the middle of the night, and they were all for the little spotted kiwi, our smallest kiwi species. So that is an amazing bird. It deserves all of the support. But unfortunately, these votes had to be disallowed, and they've been taken out of the competition. So we've had little scandals like this in the past, so...

SIMON: Yeah, for the - is it the kakapo, I believe?

KEOWN: The kakapo. I don't think they've been subject to a voting scandal yet. That is an amazing forest bird, a parrot that is nocturnal and flightless, the only one in the world that behaves that way. But they seem to be legitimately at the top of the leaderboard this year. They're a high-performing species, an extremely popular bird.

SIMON: I got to admit I am a little touched by the fact that so many people would care so deeply about Bird of the Year they'd want to cheat. Why is that?

KEOWN: Well, I can only assume that people just get really excited about New Zealand's native birds. We are a land of birds, and we have some of the most amazing and unique species. We have the largest rail species of flightless bird called the takahe, which, you know, wanders around in our swamps. And there's the smallest penguin in the world, the korora, the little blue penguin. You know, we have so many incredible species.

SIMON: So I gather that the hihi has gotten some high-profile support.

KEOWN: Yeah. So the hihi, or stitchbird, was endorsed by, well, the Adult Toy Megastore, an online sex shop in el Te Aro (ph), New Zealand. So I must say Forest & Bird blushed a little when this came through, but they were quite interested in highlighting the sex lives of birds. And the hihi is particularly unique. Most forest birds will pair and raise their chicks together, but hihi likes to mate with as many different birds as it can. And as a result of this breeding strategy, it has enormous testicles, the biggest testicles for any bird of its size, so...

SIMON: You know, I think you - I don't think there's any need to say, so. I just think you leave that statement there, as I will. And what about the reports I've heard that last year's winner, the yellow-eyed penguin, is refusing to concede defeat and step down? Have you heard that?

KEOWN: (Laughter) So I can confirm that this is completely fake news because the hoiho very humbly, very early in the Bird of the Year competition actually decided not to contest for another Bird of the Year championship. So hoiho has actually thrown its considerable weight behind the other penguins in the penguin party, like the korora and the Fiordland crested penguin and the rockhopper penguin. So they're definitely not set to take the crown again. They've instead decided to help their friends.

SIMON: Laura Keown is a spokesperson for Bird of the Year. Thanks so much for speaking with us.

KEOWN: Thanks for having me, Scott.

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