New Zealand discovers 1,500 fraudulent votes ... in an election on birds

One of 10 little spotted kiwi is released on Motuihe Island, a conservation pest-free island close to Auckland, on March 21, 2009 in Auckland, New Zealand.

(CNN)The candidates have feathers and the policy platforms are non-existent. It's New Zealand's Bird of the Year vote -- and just like a regular election, there are concerns over keeping the vote fair.

More than 1,500 fraudulent votes were cast in the early hours of Monday in the country's annual bird election, briefly pushing the Little-Spotted Kiwi to the top of the leaderboard, organizers and environmental organization Forest & Bird announced Tuesday.
Those votes -- which were discovered by the election's official scrutineers -- have since been removed. According to election spokesperson Laura Keown, the votes were cast using fake email addresses that were all traced back to the same IP address in Auckland, New Zealand's most populous city.
    "It's lucky we spotted this little Kiwi trying to sneak in an extra 1,500 votes under the cover of darkness," Keown said in a statement. "But they'll have to play by the rules like all of the other birds to win the competition."
    New Zealand's Bird of the Year competition has been running since 2005, and was established by Forest and Bird as a way to encourage New Zealanders to learn about the country's native birds -- and inspire them to help protect the country's wildlife.
    Already 35,000 votes have been cast in this year's election, which allowed voters to rank up to five birds of their choice. Each person can cast only one vote per email address, and international votes are also counted.
    Voting opened earlier this month and closes this weekend. This election comes only weeks after the country's general election, which saw Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern reelected in a landslide.
    Although the Bird of the Year vote is ostensibly an effort to raise awareness about New Zealand's native birds, many of which are struggling for survival, it has a history of turning heated.
    Human political leaders and interest groups often back the feathered candidate of their choice -- this year, sex toy retailer Adult Toy Megastore