One of America’s most beloved elections has been the victim of a voter fraud scandal.
That’s right — Fat Bear Week. The annual March Madness-style tournament where people vote for their favourite rotund grizzly bears in Alaska’s Katmai National Park has reported an apparent attempt at election rigging.
Katmai National Park said on Twitter that the race between the bears 435 Holly and 747 was hit by a spam attack, apparently to tip the scales in favour of 435 Holly.
“Like bears stuff their face with fish, our ballot box, too, has been stuffed,” the park tweeted.
Amber Kraft with the National Parks Service told Rolling Stone that while 747 was in the lead all day on Sunday, 435 Holly seemed to get a sudden boost of thousands of votes, drawing suspicion from election officials.
The votes all seemed to come from fake email addresses connected to a few IP addresses, she added, so the team was able to filter out all the fake votes.
In the end, 747, a favourite to win the tournament this year, came out victorious against 435 Holly, the 2019 champion.
The National Parks Service reviewed previous rounds of voting and did not find any additional evidence of fraud, Rolling Stone reports.
This year’s tournament already featured a shocking upset, as a bear named 901 beat four-time and reigning champion 480 Otis on Saturday. 901 is now facing off against 747 in the tournament final.
Voting is still open, and a champion will be crowned later Tuesday night, in celebration of “Fat Bear Tuesday.”
On Twitter, one user mourned 435 Holly’s loss, and Katmai NP, which is located about 300 miles southwest of Anchorage, made sure to affirm their abiding love for the giant grizzly.
“We love our girl too! But she deserves a clean win. 747 is a big boy and the people have spoken!” the park responded.
Fat Bear Week started in 2014 and has become a fun annual tradition that spreads awareness about grizzly bears in Katmai National Park and their preparations for the long winter hibernation.
The contest is held in early autumn because that’s when the bears are at their stoutest, having fattened up with salmon in preparation for the long Alaska winter, during which they’ll hibernate without eating or drinking.
Voters can take into account how much weight each bear has gained over the summer, the life history of the animal, or just “vote for the bear you think is the simply the largest and fattest,” according to the instructions.