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Background and History

Presently, trying to change your vote on a question or answer more than a few minutes after casting it results in this message appearing:

You last voted on this answer xx minutes ago. Your vote is now locked in unless this answer is edited. (click on this box to dismiss)

This has been a source of some contention and many posts on meta. You can see these by looking at the locked-votes tag. The justification that I have seen posted for the current behaviour is as follows:

However, a problem remains:

  • The workaround is ugly and undesirable. If you don't yet have enough rep to edit someone's post yourself, then you need to leave a comment asking them to edit it for you, which is useless clutter to any future reader. On the other hand, if you edit the post yourself, then you'll show up as the last editor in the post's edit history, giving the potentially false impression that the post has changed in some significant way since it was originally posted, especially if the edit comes long after the date of the original post.
  • There is an entirely legitimate use case for undoing your past votes: correcting mistakes, which even the most careful voter may sometimes make.

Example: earlier today I was frustrated after I stupidly downvoted a correct answer to a question, believing it to be wrong due to a basic mistake in my own understanding of some SQL syntax. I commented explaining my mistaken reasoning, and my error was quickly pointed out by other commenters. I was simply and objectively wrong, and my downvote was, consequently, without merit. However, by then my vote was locked. It took several further comments (which remain on the page) and several further minutes to inform my innocent victim that he needed to make a token edit to his post in order to let me retract my erroneous downvote. Surely this is not the system working as it should?

With this in mind, I wondered if there exists a way to change the vote locking behaviour that:

  • Is simple,
  • Allows users to undo votes they regret, and
  • Does not in any way make gaming the system easier.

Such a solution would allow those who want to be able to undo votes to get what they want without any downside. I believe such a solution exists.

Proposed Solution

Allow undoing of votes, but:

  • Have it cost 1 rep,
  • Don't simply remove all record of the original vote having been cast; instead, have the owner of the affected post see two rep changes in their profile: one for the original vote, and one for the retraction. In other words, record both the original vote and the retraction as separate rep-affecting events.
  • When a downvote is rescinded, don't refund the user a downvote.

Why this would work:

  • Since removing downvotes would offer a further penalty instead of a refund, it would be impossible to recoup the costs of voting down competitors' answers in bad faith.
  • Any tactical voting (by downvoting rival answers and then retracting the downvote) would leave the same 'paper trail' as it does now, since the record of the original downvote is being kept. Users who are victim of such downvoting would still be able to notice it, and the magical fraud detector would still have access to the data it needs to function.
  • An honourable user who chooses - mistakenly but with good intentions - to pay a point of rep to downvote an answer, would be able to pay the same price to retract that vote. If they were willing to pay the point to downvote, they will presumably also be willing to pay the price of undoing their mistake.
  • Hasty or frivolous votes would be penalised when the user chooses to undo them, so fact-checking and thinking carefully before casting your vote would still be encouraged.
share|improve this question
This is an intelligent suggestion and an intriguing way to allow people rescinding their votes later, but I'm not sure how many people actually care enough about their voting to use the feature. – Pëkka Oct 29 '12 at 22:51
Even though I like the suggestion, I'm cynical enough to think that many users won't rescind their downvotes if it won't give them their reputation back. – Bart Oct 29 '12 at 22:59
There's a simple workaround to retract votes without leaving an edit trail: make a trivial change to the post, change your vote, and undo the edit (manually, don't rollback). Ta-da! – NullUserException อ_อ Oct 29 '12 at 23:16
@NullUserException - interesting. I didn't know that. Still doesn't help folks like me who don't yet have the rep to edit others' posts, though! – Mark Amery Oct 29 '12 at 23:17
Furthermore, this wouldn't stop (some of) the gaming it's designed to prevent: downvoting a competing answer makes yours float to the top, which likely gives you more upvotes. Many people will take -1 if they get +10 from it. – NullUserException อ_อ Oct 29 '12 at 23:19
All in all, I think this is overly complex and the current system works fine as long as you have enough rep to edit posts. – NullUserException อ_อ Oct 29 '12 at 23:25
@NullUserException Thanks for your feedback. As a relevant point of information, then: ordering the users section of StackOverflow by reputation, it would seem that roughly 1.5% of registered users have the 2000 rep required to edit posts. Clearly the proportion of all votes that are made by users with the ability to edit posts will be much greater than this, but I don't know off the top of my head how to calculate it. – Mark Amery Oct 29 '12 at 23:33
@Pëkka: Some of us care more about the accuracy of the site than our imaginary points score. I would gladly take a -10 rep hit to correct a mistaken vote and increase the helpfulness of the answers to visitors of the site. – endolith Jun 7 '14 at 0:08
@endolith The helpfulness of the answers depends on what's in the answer box, not on the number to the left of it. If an answer goes out of date (API change, whatever) and half of users take back their votes (so it has +3 instead of +6 now), that accomplishes... nothing. If you care so much about accuracy, you should edit the answer to bring it up to date, or to make it clear than it refers to out-of-date technology. Which, incidentally, would release the vote lock. – user259867 Jun 7 '14 at 1:30
@wordsthatendinGRY Potentially, it accomplishes something pretty important: letting the correct answer float to the top, ahead of the now-wrong one. When a question is being read by a visitor with limited time, the usefulness of an answer absolutely does depend on its visibility, and answers have to compete for attention; votes are how we decide which answers win. I care about that aspect of voting far more than I care about the rep. – Mark Amery Jun 7 '14 at 11:41
@wordsthatendinGRY: The number of votes determines which answers are represented as "correct" and show up at the top of the list. Wasting every reader's time following a bunch of dead ends is antithetical to the goals of the site. And no, editing an answer is a hacky workaround that not everyone is able to do. Fix the underlying problem, which is that people are arbitrarily not allowed to correct erroneous votes. – endolith Jun 7 '14 at 16:03

Having just discovered an accidental downvote in Security (scrolling on iPad, hit button without ever realizing it), and having had to suggest a minor edit in the hope that it is approved and I can retract my downvote, I'm all for this. I would much rather have had had to pay a point in pentalty than add suggest an edit.

Alternatively, how about a flag to request a vote retraction?

share|improve this answer

I would certainly welcome an improvement to the current mechanism, which is frankly daft, analogous to:

  • "Why have you locked me out of the house, dear?"
  • "I had to lock the door, sweetheart, because otherwise the burglars might come in. And anyway, you can see I've left the window open, so you can always climb in that way."

As a simpler alternative, how about a daily or even weekly limit of one vote retraction?

Given that the driver is to fix accidental voting actions, it follows that a vote retraction should only ever be needed very infrequently. Therefore setting a very low limit for any given period of time should be sufficient to free us up, while virtually eliminating any scope for tactical abuse of the voting system.

share|improve this answer
Another handy addition would be confirmations on downvotes (and even possibly upvotes.) Make it a setting. Confirm before I downvote a question or answer? At least it can help filter out the accidentals. – EBrown Jun 9 '15 at 19:48

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