A wildly popular online poll to find the fattest bear in an Alaskan national park was hit by rampant ballot stuffing, organizers say, but in the end a champion was crowned.
With the country’s political class obsessed with electoral integrity, the annual Fat Bear Week Poll it seemed like the perfect example of free and fair voting.
But even that model of democratic decency appeared to have softened after a spam campaign pitting the Bear 435 against the Bear 747 in a crucial semi-final face-off to determine which creature had packed the most kilos.
“Like bears stuffing their faces with fish, our ballot box is full,” tweeted the Katmai National Park Service, which organizes the annual vote.
“Looks like someone decided to spam the Fat Bear Week poll, but luckily it’s easy for us to tell which votes are fake.” the park wrote on Twitter.
After a recount, the Bear 747 — whose sheer mass and name has drawn comparisons to Boeing’s jumbo jet — was declared the winner. He took on Bear 901 in Tuesday’s grand final – and was declared the decisive winner.
According to organizers, 747 won the championship round with 68,105 votes to 56,876.
The weekly competition features bear-to-bear matches, with users voting for which ones they think look fattest after months of consuming up to 100kg of salmon a day.
The chubby layer is vital to helping the bears hibernate during the cold of an Alaskan winter.
During five months of deep sleep, they don’t wake up to eat, drink or even go to the toilet, and in the spring they appear hungry — and much thinner.
While the bears who are the subject of the vote are immune to the bit of shame that plagues life for those in the public eye, the contest itself has become something of a behemoth.
It started in 2014 as a small-scale effort to raise awareness about bears and the environmental challenges they face, but by last year it had grown into a massive event, with more than 800,000 ballots cast.
According to Katmai National Park, the bears’ survival depends on eating a year’s worth of food in six months.
Former Katmai National Park Ranger Andrew LaValle he told CBS News in 2018 that “a fat bear is a healthy bear, and it’s something to celebrate.”