Can you really run an online poll accurately?
I've always wondered about online polls. How accurate and honest can the voting process be?
Currently, Hasbro is running an online poll to vote for which one of 22 Canadian communities will be included in the new Canadian edition of Monopoly.
I asked Mike Smit, who is completing his PhD in Computing Science at the University of Alberta and runs iVoteOnline.com, about Hasbro's voting procedures for Monopoly Canada.
His response made me laugh:
"A well-known example of the "accuracy" of these (online) polls is Stephen Colbert of the Colbert Report, who regularly instructs his viewers to go vote for him, and often wins. Hungary once tried an online poll to name a bridge; they received 17 million votes for Stephen Colbert (population of Hungary: 10 million),"
Okay, so how is Hasbro going to ensure that Boardwalk and Park Place don't end up being callled Stephen Colbert Walk and Stephen Colbert Place?
Mike took a look at the Monopoly voting site and replied:
The "honest" way to win is via campaigning - in this case, telling people who are likely to vote for your preferred city that they should go vote.
The "subversive" way is to work within the enforced rules to find ways to vote multiple times yourself. There are a few things to determine how easy this is:
0. Can a user vote multiple times? No, in this case they are limited to once per day (they cannot just keep voting over and over again with the same account).
1. Can a single user have multiple accounts? Yes, in this case they can. Signing up for an account takes about 30 seconds.
2. Is it 'scriptable'? A "scriptable" voting method would allow programmers to write a script to automate the process of voting. In this case, creating an account to vote is NOT scriptable. However, once an account is created, voting once a day every day IS scriptable.
3. What volume of votes can I produce artificially relative to expected voter turnout? Let's say I can write a script to vote automatically for me in a day. I still need to create the login accounts for the script. If every 30 seconds I can manually create an account to vote, then if I dedicate 1 hour today to creating accounts, I can get 120 votes per day for my preferred city.
(Of course, I will need 120 real email addresses for this to work). Over the 40 days left in the contest, that's 4800 votes. If Hasbro gets their way, that will be a raindrop in the ocean of votes. If I can spend 10 hours creating accounts, then I can get 48,000 votes... that might be enough to make a difference.
Given the importance of the number of "honest" votes, amusingly your article and the publicity associated with it might be the best thing that could happen for the accuracy of this online vote. :)