When you enter a contest, you put your heart and soul into creating an entry that you hope will win. So when you think that someone is cheating, it can really make you mad. It's unjust, unfair, and you feel like your time has been stolen.
However, there are times when something seems like a red flag for cheating, but is actually legit. So what should you be watching out for? And what do you do if you suspect that voting fraud is happening?
Cheating in Contests and Detecting Voting Fraud
In most cases, it is hard for entrants to determine if someone else is cheating on a contest. For example, one common cause for concern is when one contestant surges ahead because they receive a massive number of votes in a very short period of time.
Even Oprah was accused of rigging a contest when an entrant received hundreds of thousands of votes in an hour, unseating a popular contestant who had been in the lead for weeks. The result? Lots of negative publicity.
Sometimes, people do cheat in voting contests, tallying up hundreds of thousands of illicit votes using bots, sockpuppets, or other prohibited methods. A sudden influx of votes could mean that an entrant has exploited a flaw in the code to cheat.
However, there are also legitimate ways to score a large number of votes in a short period of time, especially if a competitor has the ability to reach a large group of people.
For example, readers accused ThePamperedPup of rigging a contest. However, the company responded in the comments, and explained the influx of votes that one competitor received:
[the contestant's] husband was an executive with The PGA of America. He had access to an email list that contained hundreds of thousands of addresses. I believe it was ten days prior to the conclusion of the contest that a mass email went out to all the addresses contained in that list. We fully investigated the tens of thousands of votes that came pouring in as a result, and determined that there was in fact no cheating that occurred.
If you're up against someone who has access to a huge email list, or their entry is promoted on a local news station, or their entry goes viral for some other reason, a huge overnight jump in votes can be completely legitimate.
And there's a third possibility as well: that a jump in votes was caused by a technical problem with the contest that's not your competitor's fault. Unfortunately, even with the best of intentions, mistakes happen, and it's possible that something could be wrong with the contest's code and its ability to track votes. So don't assume the sponsor or your competitor is cheating when there's a chance that it's a simple (and correctable) mistake.
In most cases, the sponsor is best equipped to uncover cheaters, especially when it comes to vote fraud. They usually have access to information about where the votes come from, whether they were made within a reasonable period of time, whether the voter's IP address is known for cheating, whether the vote originates from a foreign country that isn't allowed to participate, and other useful information.
However, there are some things that stand out to other contestants. For example, some entries might not follow the letter of the contest's rules. A video contest entry might include someone wearing a t-shirt with a logo on it when only the sponsor's logo should be included. An essay contest entry might be too long or too short to qualify.
While you wouldn't want to drive yourself crazy checking every competitor's entry to be sure that they follow the rules perfectly (that's the judges' job, after all), gross violations might stand out to you as cheating.
What Should You Do If You Suspect Cheating?
The best thing that you can do if you think someone is cheating in a contest is to document your reasons for suspicion and then, politely, inform the sponsor.
The sponsor can investigate and determine where the votes are coming from. If necessary, they can add more security, disqualify a cheating competitor, or take other action necessary to resolve the problem.
It's a good idea to avoid an accusatory tone when you reach out to the sponsor. It's highly unlikely that they are supporting a cheater. You might have reached out to them before they have completed their verification process, or they may have made a simple mistake.
You should also be prepared to not receive the answer you are hoping for. The sponsor might interpret the rules differently, might have information that you don't have access to that shows that votes are legitimate, or simply not see whatever it is that makes you suspect cheating.
In egregious cases where blatant cheating is going on and the sponsor won't take action, you can attempt to contact your state's Attorney General for assistance.
If you want to get more votes for your contest entry without cheating, check out how to get more votes legitimately.