What a wonderful Valentine's gift: to be told that my prize is going to someone who clearly lost due to a "hunch" that there was cheating on my behalf. I should have known this was all too good to be true.
Just in case you hadn't been following the final round closely, I've provided a snap shot I took at 11 AM on the final day of voting (Feb. 12). I took this right after my mom called me and told me that she couldn't vote for me anymore, because they had put up a splash screen saying that voting was over.
I don't know if this was the final count or not. It's probably pretty close, but this was where the votes were the last time I had voted for myself that morning. I just left my browser open.
To anyone who sees the vote totals, it seems pretty clear that I am the winner. So, my friends and family were shocked to learn that I had been disqualified for "robotic" voting. Only my father wasn't surprised. My mother had started calling up my family in Jamaica and telling them that I had won and he told her to wait until Cotton had updated their webpage. My dad is not an optimist. I get my pessimism from him. Hehe. He thought Cotton would try to do something strange and he wasn't holding his breath. Needless to say, he's not surprised, but I am still shocked. Not even Cotton's IP Coordinator, Heather Snyder, seems to know what is going on. When I spoke to her on the phone, she seemed lost and confused. She was unable to meaningfully articulate the process by which I was disqualified. She promised to send me an email that would better explain the situation.
I thought something was not quite right when I looked at the numbers for my opponent over the course of the voting period, but I didn't say anything. My rate of votes was very good in comparison and I was still holding on. As I mentioned before, I've had an IT specialist keep track of the voting for me ever since I complained to Cotton about cheating during the second round. I have spreadsheets galore.
When I made this complaint, Cotton did not even acknowledge the possibility of fraudulent voting. Instead, I received a response which basically made me feel as if the status quo was my fault because I wasn't "rallying my network of friends" as much as I could have. The fact of the matter is, I was rallying everyone I knew. I had hundreds of people voting for me. It was clear that my opponent was cheating.
It was only after I had publicly complained that I noticed Cotton put in a stop-gap Captcha and then finally the Re-Captcha. After that, my opponent could not keep up with my rate of votes. I surpassed her and I went on to the third round. Another thing that helped me a great deal was this email response from Cotton informing me that votes were unlimited and that opening and closing one's browser to continuously vote was A-OK. I circulated that email to everyone I knew and they came through for me.
Just before the end of the second round of voting, Cotton sent another email to all contestants informing them that they had detected fraudulent voting and that they would be adjusting the votes at the end of the voting period. I circulated this email to all of my friends and family as well. Keep in mind that, at this point, I had over 8,000 votes (more than I ever expected to have), because my friends voted for me for 10+ hours to help me overcome my opponent's inflated vote totals. No one from Cotton lodged an accusation of fraudulent voting in my region. Clearly, I had received an outpouring of support and I am sure that many people voted for me constantly and as often as they could, but this did not raise any suspicions. Why should it? I simply rallied my family and friends as I was told to do. I informed them of the unlimited voting system that was given Cotton's blessing and they voted their hearts out.
So, in the midst of pretty rampant and obvious cheating, not just in my region, but in many others, (see the example from the Northeast below - both contestants disappeared from the third and final round of voting) I went on to the final round. With the Re-Captcha in place, I felt super confident that I would win.
I knew that I typically get at least 3,000 votes before the end of each voting period and sure enough I hit that 3,000 mark and gradually surpassed it. My opponent had garnered more than 4,000 votes in the second round, but he was unable to maintain that level of votes in the third round. Curiously, his opponent in the second round had more than 6,000 votes, but she quietly disappeared and was not my opponent for the third round. She had garnered more than 11,000 votes in the first round and I had suspected cheating in her case. I mentioned that anomaly in this post from January.
This is long before Cotton even had Captchas. The first round had no Captcha system whatsoever! This whole contest was flawed from the start. I was just determined to do my best under the circumstances. According to the IT specialist I mentioned earlier, the rate of votes on my side in the final round were such that my opponent would not have been able to surpass me.
By the end of the third round, I had a 900 vote lead.
So, Cotton is basically telling me that I had a robot vote more than 900 times in order to win the final round. This makes absolutely no sense at all given my track record in the previous two rounds and on top of the fact that I complained about cheating (probably not the only one) and spearheaded the introduction of the more effective Captcha system! How on earth, why on earth would I even need to cheat when I've consistently racked up at least 3,000 votes from the VERY beginning?
These two contestants were disqualified in the third round. To compensate, the other two contestants were simply placed in a head-to-head with each other for a second time. I remember, because I was voting for Holly D. in the Northeast. I even posted this photo on my Facebook page the day that I got an email from Cotton about the detection of fraudulent votes and I opined that Cotton was referring to these two ladies. They had both disappeared from the running in the third round and I commented about that as well on my Facebook page. This is all well documented. Curiously, the contestant who had been winning in the third round, Holly D., disappeared and Natalie C (above) is now on the front page of Cotton's website as the winner! What in the world is going on here!? Was this contest rigged?**
Now that I think of it, Hallie S. wasn't winning either. I'm sure of it. The girl with the maxi dress on, Lauren H., from the West Coast competition was winning. I was voting for Hallie, but Lauren was really far ahead. However, Hallie is on the front page and not Lauren. Very selective, Cotton.
Really? I'm the one who is being disqualified for cheating while Natalie C. is magically allowed to win the Grand Prize after not even competing in the third round and clearly cheating! 36,000 votes is just unprecedented! It's crazy! This is complete madness. If Cotton is going to have the gall to ruin my reputation by disqualification, then I want to see the proof! Until then, I am the legitimate winner and they have unjustly enriched my losing competitor. There is still time for Cotton to make this right.
I'm waiting, but like my wise father, I am not holding my breath. What a farce.
Would I even want to be on the same stage as some of these people, anyway? It seems that some of them really don't deserve to be up there, right now. There's a dark cloud on this whole event.
**Update: I spoke to Holly D. and she told me that Natalie C. was in the final round and that Natalie beat her. Maybe there was a glitch on Cotton's website, but that's not what I saw and everyone else I told about this issue at that time didn't see Natalie C., either. So, that one is a mystery. 2/16/13**