Cheating on poll corrupts system - Tamara Boatwright

When we launched the poll on our Web sites (www.news-daily.com and www.henryherald.com) we thought this would be a good way for our readers to interact with us. We also thought it would be a decent, but certainly not scientific, snapshot of who was reading us and viewing our Web site.

We've tried to vary our questions with some topical subjects and some general questions. As the elections neared we thought this would be another opportunity for a tally of our readers.

Well, the best laid plans?

The system is set up for one voter per viewer of the site. As cynical as reporters tend to be, our idealism leaks out from time to time and this was one of those times. We figured that everyone would play fair and cast one voter per view of the site. But no, there are apparently some people out there in pollster land who saw this as a way to rack up support for their particular candidates.

Now before you get all upset and call me Tuesday morning ready to cuss me out, we have the figures to back this up.

On a normal evening we average between 30 to maybe 50 votes on our poll question. Recently, we racked up upwards of 2,000 votes on the News Daily site. Great, we thought, people are really interested.

I was honestly surprised to discover that everyone was not playing fair.

Our sites tally the number of visitors to the site – you can see that number at the bottom of our home page. Once you visit the site your visit is tallied and if you vote on the poll question, that vote stays tallied until the next question is posted – there's a safety measure that keeps you from voting twice. The number of votes should be in line with the number of visits to the site.

But there are some out there who know how to get around the safety measure that is supposed to keep the playing field level. It involves disabling the "cookies" on you computer which allows you to sign back on to the site and vote again and again and again. There are also some computer programs out there that allow you to do the same thing. On a recent night we had anywhere from 15 to 40 votes per visit to the site.

Again, we have never presented the poll question as anything other than what it is, a snapshot of the readers of both the News Daily and the Daily Herald. It's not a Time magazine poll conducted by pollsters who do nothing else. It's a snapshot designed to be fairly approached by readers and accurately presented by us. One vote per reader.

In the grand scheme of things, I guess cheating on a newspaper Web site poll is not that big of a deal. Tell your children that a little thing like that is OK. Tell them that playing fair isn't really important. They'll understand. Mommy and Daddy aren't supposed to set examples for their children, are they?

That's what I find so disappointing. "They're just showing support for their candidate?" someone said. No, it's more than that. It's cheating, and that's all it is.

So please, dear and appreciated readers, play fair. You hold us to that standard every day and we work hard to meet that standard with every publication we present.

And if you really want to show support for your candidate, go to the polls on July 20 and every time an election is held. That's where the numbers really count.

Tamara Boatwright is the managing editor of the News Daily and Daily Herald. She may be reached at tboatwright@news-daily.com or at (770) 478-5753 ext. 272.