Recently, some astute readers alerted me to a strange voting pattern on one of our online polls about a proposed mining project in B.C.
Sean Durkan, who handles communications for a group called First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining, wrote to say that over the space of perhaps four hours "the Yes side managed the rack up more than 3,000 votes - which was 50 per cent of the total they had managed to get in the previous 70 hours. They suddenly went from being behind by 1,000 votes and a margin of 54 per cent for the No side, to being up 1,500 votes and leading by 55 per cent to 45 per cent."
Why the sudden surge in voting?
There's good reason why online polls (at globeandmail.com or any website) should be taken with a grain of salt. With a few simple clicks, anyone can vote multiple times on most web polls.
Once a reader has voted in a globeandmail.com poll, their computer is tagged with a cookie - this means globeandmail.com won't let that computer cast another vote in the same poll.
However, readers who are determined to vote multiple times can find a way. They can clear their computer's cookies with a few clicks and vote again and again. Some tech-savvy readers also use a script, which can automatically clear cookies and cast many votes.
Artificially running up the count was a problem with the voting on our comments, until recently when we made it mandatory for readers to log-in to vote a comment up or down. Once logged-in, they can only vote once per comment. This has seriously cut down in the amount of sudden surges in voting.
We've heard your concerns about the online polls, and we're considering extending the log-in requirement to online polls. We want to hear from you about this, and then make a decision based on your feedback. So please share your thoughts in the comments below: Should logging-in be required for online polls too?
That said, the polls at globeandmail.com are meant to be entertaining for readers, rather than scientific. Our polls should never be considered 100 per cent accurate, since there's always the possibility one reader might create several accounts to cast more than one vote.