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Recently, I've noticed a bunch of new users who have a small number of questions. They have received a number of downvotes on their first couple of questions or so; since they start out with 1 rep, it never changes because of the downvotes.

However, once they get their first upvote, it gives them the full amount of reputation without regard for the previous negative reputation. Is this intentional so as not to scare away new users, or just a bug?

(One example may be found here.)

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@meta.michael Thanks. Do you know if all the uncounted downvotes get factored in with the next reputation recalculation, or do they just fade away? – APerson Feb 20 '13 at 23:07
I've actually withdrawn my comment because I didn't notice you were talking about a user with +/-1 on the same question which is a different thing... – Michael Berkowski Feb 20 '13 at 23:07
Votes that would push the reputation below 1 are simply ignored for the reputation. Consider it as an analogue for the rep-cap. – Daniel Fischer Feb 20 '13 at 23:24
This is status-bydesign. – nhahtdh Feb 20 '13 at 23:32
up vote 7 down vote accepted

As stated in comments, this is by-design. Whenever a user has a reputation loss that would result in negative/zero reputation, their reputation is reset back to one point (source: FAQ on reputation).

The rationale for this is indeed along the lines of "not scaring away new users"

The StackOverflow team believes that everybody's special in their own way and doesn't deserve to have a negative self-esteem (aka reputation).

This. A rep of zero or negative seemed cruel.

Plus, everyone starts out as "a one" instead of "a zero"

From Jeff's answer to a similar question.

This can occasionally lead to silly effects sometimes: where a user receives a raft of downvotes for a poor question/answer which are then immediately offset (at least in terms of reputation) by an upvote, for example.

Even users placed into timed suspension are locked to 1 rep rather than 0, ensuring the system isn't classed as cruel and unusual punishment.

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