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‘Kids’ Vote’ presidential poll attacked by bots, Nickelodeon says

UPDATED: Tue., Nov. 3, 2020

Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris greets the crowd at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley's Edinburg campus on Friday in Edinburg, Texas.  (Delcia Lopez/The Monitor/Associated Press)
Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris greets the crowd at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley's Edinburg campus on Friday in Edinburg, Texas. (Delcia Lopez/The Monitor/Associated Press)
By Emily Yahr Washington Post

On Tuesday night, as it has during every presidential election year over the past three decades, Nickelodeon aired its “Nick News: Kids Pick the President” special and revealed the results of its “Kids’ Vote” poll, an informal, nonscientific survey in which children get to vote for the U.S. president.

Except this year, the network said, the poll was attacked by bots. The online poll was open from Oct. 20-26, and on the second day of voting, Nickelodeon “detected cheating … when threads on online forums began discussing corrupting the Kids Pick the President site with fraudulent votes,” the network said in a news release. The rules allow for one vote per household device so families with multiple children can each cast a ballot.

“Subsequently, more than 130,000 bot-generated votes were detected,” the release said. “Nickelodeon utilized a voter-certification tool to identify these votes and to remove them, ensuring that only individually placed votes counted toward the total.”

This is the first time a bot effort has attempted to interfere with the results of a “Kids Pick the President” poll, a Nickelodeon spokeswoman confirmed.

Nearly 90,000 virtual ballots were cast. Democratic candidate Joe Biden won with 53% of the vote, while President Trump received 47%.

Over the past eight election cycles, the “Kids’ Vote” poll has correctly predicted the president six times: It was incorrect in 2004 when kids chose John Kerry over George W. Bush and in 2016 when they chose Hillary Clinton over Trump.

Tuesday’s “Kids Pick the President” special, hosted by actress Keke Palmer, educated kids about the history of voting and discussed issues including the coronavirus pandemic, the climate crisis and the country’s reckoning over racial equality.

“By now, you probably noticed that a lot of adults around you keep talking about one thing: the 2020 presidential election. But it can get pretty confusing,” Palmer said at the top of the special. “So we decided to break it all down and create a space where you can have a voice.”

After talking to kids on Zoom about the first presidential debate (10-year-old Rory: “Honestly, the debate feels like a reality show!”) and a discussion with a child psychologist about the impact of election chaos on kids, Palmer announced that they were ready to share the winner of the poll. But suddenly, a voice-over cut in:

“Before we reveal the results, we need to let you in on some news. We know you depend on Nick for fairness and honesty, so we wanted to be honest with you,” the voice said. “As we conducted our vote, our tech wizards at Nick discovered some cheating and were able to eliminate the unfair votes from our count. After lots of vetting, we feel super confident in our results.”

Palmer then revealed the winners of the poll: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. “There you have it,” she said. “The kids – the future – have spoken.”

While voting manipulation in online nonscientific polls is nothing new, Nickelodeon emphasized that it takes this process seriously.

“Though kids are not of an age to vote, ‘Kids Pick the President’ is a platform where their voices do count, and they deserve to be heard,” the network said in a statement. “Therefore, out of respect for kids everywhere and in the spirit of civic responsibility, we present the name of the winner based on votes cast fairly and within our stated guidelines of one vote counted per household device.”

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