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Did misdials cost Clay Aiken the title on 'American Idol'?


By Wade Paulsen, 05/27/2003 

The American Idol finale voting saga reminds us more of the 2000 Florida presidential election fiasco every day. In an uncanny imitation of the "hanging chad" controversy that forced the Bush-Gore Florida vote count to the U.S. Supreme Court twice, the Associated Press reports that more people may have tried to vote for runner-up Clay Aiken than for winner Ruben Studdard ... but misdialed the number, so their votes weren't included in the final count.

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Indiana received more than 240,000 misdialed calls from wannabe American Idol voters last week. Of that number, 169,000 callers were trying to vote for Clay Aiken; just 72,000 were voting for Ruben Studdard. The misdials were caused by people substituting the letter "Q" for the letter "O" in Idol's dial-in phone numbers: (866)IDOLS01 and (866)IDOLS02.

Based on the last vote totals announced, this swing of almost 100,000 votes would put Clay only about 30,000 votes behind Ruben. It also raises the question of why Clay voters would be more likely to misdial than Ruben voters. One suggested answer is that Clay voters had newer phones that were more likely to have the letter "Q" on them. However, Fox continues to show no interest in investigating the discrepancies, declaring (in best Katherine Harris style) that it can't be responsible for people who dial the wrong number and that Ruben won, period.

So, let's see here. On Wednesday night, we had a narrow victory by Ruben Studdard over Clay Aiken, which was first announced by Idol host Ryan Seacrist as a 13,000 vote margin of victory but then changed to a 1335-vote margin, raising some not-very-serious questions about mechanical inaccuracies that could have affected the vote. Then, on Thursday, we had the announcement that the real difference was 130,000 votes, which seemed to eliminate those issues. The wrong total was attributed to on-air errors (on live TV) by Ryan Seacrist, which seemed to end any hint of controversy.

But then, on Friday, Fox changed its story and announced that the incorrect announcements were really due to incorrect totals given to Ryan, without explaining how incorrect totals could have been prepared in the first place. Then, today, we learn that a 100,000 vote swing resulted from the letter "Q," Idol's equivalent of the butterfly ballot. What could possibly come next? We tremble in anticipation.

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