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Ways to enhance online polling systems

In the last two posts, I've been talking about how you can disable "cookies" in your Internet browser in order to vote repeatedly at online voting sites, such as VOCM's Question of the Day.

As demonstrated yesterday, there are supporters of the Williams Government who are cheating, voting repeatedly on any politically sensitive question, to stack the outcome in their favour. (The only question is whether they are acting independently, or are sanctioned by the party.)

I made it clear that my experiment was a one-day-only thing. However, I'm afraid that I've empowered those people who have grown tired of watching the poll get hijacked every day.

Now, the other side is flexing its muscle.

As I write this, today's Question of the Day has also gone wacky. The question is:

"Do you think Danny Williams owes an apology to breast cancer patients and their families for his recent comments on the Cameron Inquiry?"

Already, there are 18,471 responses, and, amazingly, the Yes side is out in front, at 45 per cent. It is close, however. The No side is at 44 per cent, and the Not Sures are 10 per cent.

It's interesting that the contrary-minded are now having their say. However, the situation is still dysfunctional. Cheating is still cheating and the poll results are not an honest reflection of the collective opinion of the public.

Alas, it is even easier to cheat the system than I have already suggested. In yesterday's post, I received a comment from Jason Tucker, the IT Systems Analyst with The Telegram. He said it's even easier to cheat than just disabling cookies.

"If you're technically savvy enough to block cookies," Tucker wrote, "you're capable of installing a macro recorder in Mozilla Firefox (I used one called iMacros for Firefox). Then, just record yourself voting once, tell iMacros how many times you want to replay that action and, voila, your computer will go ahead and vote that many times."

In other words, you can turn your computer into a robot that votes continuously, whilst you go and make a cup of tea or watch the soaps.

But there are ways around this, and they shouldn't be hard for a company like VOCM to implement. Here they are, in order of importance:

1.Require cookies to be enabled

Web sites can be set to require that cookies be enabled before visitors can participate in online polls. This would be a step in the right direction. However, you can still erase cookies each time you vote, then go back and vote again. It takes longer, but it can be done. To discourage this, I suggest adding:

2.A type scrambled word' feature

When you sign up for a free email account, or post a comment to a blog, you are usually asked to type the letters you see on the screen and these have been twisted out of shape, so that webcrawling programs can't create phony accounts or leave spam. These features are a small bother, but I don't think they would deter voters. They would further slow down the cheaters who have already erased their cookies, but it wouldn't stop them. So I also suggest this measure, which was suggested yesterday by Greg Locke:

3.Track IP addresses

Every computer has a specific Internet Protocol (IP) address, which is unique to each user. Think of it as your licence plate on the information highway. Computer programs can easily record IP addresses of browsers, and block them from voting for a set period perhaps 18 to 24 hours. Only problem is, some routers serve multiple computers with a single IP address and this would prevent any more than one vote (in a large office complex, for example).

I, for one, would love to see the "poll goosers" neutered, and the VOCM Question of the Day made "real" again.

Some people especially professional pollsters would dismiss these polls as being unreliable and unscientific because the voting sample is not random. However, when you get three or four thousand unique visitors all expressing their opinion, well, that's an impressively large sample, and it's going to give you something pretty darn close to the public mood.

How about it, folks over at Steele Communications (owners of VOCM)? I'll wait a few days, then call to see if you think this can be done.

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Recent comments

  • Dennis
    July 27, 2010 - 14:53

    Come on, Geoff, a poll in which participants seek out the opportunity to participate still wouldn't give you anything close to the public mood. You'd still be limited to those with access, those who can be bothered to go to the site, etc. Further, while your safeguards would limit the number of votes per person, drones would still be rallied to vote and invite their friends to vote. I've received several of those e-mails, asking me to vote and forward the request along to everybody in my address book.

    Random sampling is the only way to go; this silliness is an insult to statistics.