Organizers report online vote fraud

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Poor Pee Wee Martini.

The 2-year-old Chinese Crested/Japanese Chin mix was leading in the online World’s Ugliest Dog Contest, a canine version of the People’s Choice Awards for the funny-looking critters.

Then computer hackers broke into the Sonoma-Marin (Calif.) Fair Web site and erased 40,000 votes for Pee Wee and stole 30,000 from an Italian greyhound named Victoria while they were at it.

That put Lucille Bald – a purebred Chinese Crested from Florida – in the lead until fair officials noticed the vote theft. Contest officials said they do not believe there is any link between Lucille Bald and the presidential-votes controversy in the dog’s home state several years ago.

“Everything was going really well, we were getting a huge amount of hits,” Tawny Tesconi, chief executive of the Sonoma-Marin Fair, said this week. “Then votes started changing.”

The popular World’s Ugliest Dog Contest has been drawing entries from around the country to Petaluma, Calif., for the past 17 years. An online competition was added this year for fun. To win the actual title, Pee Wee and the others must parade their stuff at the fairgrounds in Petaluma.

The winner has appeared in the past on CNN, the “Last Call with Carson Daly” and the “CBS Early Show.”

To make sure every dog gets “a fair shake,” the online voting for the popular winner will start over May 22, Tesconi said. A panel of five judges will select the official winner June 23.

“We’ve been putting in some firewalls or whatever they’re called to prevent the vote stealing from happening again,” Tesconi said. “We want to make sure everybody has a fair shake.”

There is no entry fee for the contest and dogs may be entered up until an hour before judging begins.

To see the online gallery of entrants so far, go to

www.sonoma-marinfair.org/uglydogvote.shtml

Visit MercuryNews.com, the World Wide Web site of the Mercury News, at http://www.mercurynews.com.

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-05-19-06 1355EDT


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