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It is not obvious that clicking the same arrow that you just clicked to up-vote or down-vote will have the effect of undoing that action. Not obvious at all. Intuitively, one might think that clicking the same arrow again would either (a) vote again, same direction or (b) more likely, be a no-op or result in an error message: "Ignored - only one vote, please".

What's more, it is pretty natural to think that if you just added one to the up votes then clicking the down arrow would cancel that action, and vice versa. If you try that you find that it instead both (a) cancels your up vote and (b) adds a down vote.

Not obvious/intuitive at all. That is, not very guessable. But once you know about it, it is of course a reasonable UI.

All that's needed is to make the behavior more obvious. Provide some visual clues. Perhaps even pop up a hint when someone switches arrow direction, e.g., votes up then down, suggesting, say, "To cancel your vote, click the SAME arrow again".

Just look at the number of times people have asked how to cancel their vote -- search for [voting] cancel. It should be clear that how to cancel a vote is not being communicated well enough.

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There is already a visual prompt in the tool tip. After a vote, the tooltip on the voting buttons changes to append "(click again to undo)"

image of tooltip for existing downvote

So we are informing users of the steps necessary, but it is not an "in your face" message. I'll admit that not everyone reads tool tips (although they should), so possibly something could be done.

A general popup is definitely not the answer. I think switching upvotes to downvotes is as common as cancelling votes, so you are going to annoy people who want to switch their votes.

But maybe a popup for your first vote to inform the user then of how to cancel their vote.

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I'm one user who didn't notice that mouseover tooltip. The number of users asking how to cancel a vote indicates that I'm not the only one (but of course we might be few). Currently after clicking an arrow it changes color to indicate that you have voted (and which direction). How about changing that voted arrow to include the label "Undo" or similar? Other than putting this info directly on the place to click, yes, I agree that it might be enough to show a popup (if there is no better solution) only for the first vote. – Drew Sep 1 '13 at 4:55
@Drew the number of people asking is not nearly as much as you think. The search you suggested contains answers as well as questions, and includes topics including canceling "close votes" and not being able to cancel due to the age of the vote (you can't change a vote after 5 minutes). I counted 3 questions not including yours that ask this question. – psubsee2003 Sep 1 '13 at 9:45
Fair enough. Then count me as just one user who found the UI confusing, and one user who thinks it could easily be clearer. ("Easily" in terms of a simple UI difference. I can't speak to the implementation difficulties.) – Drew Sep 1 '13 at 15:58
@Drew I think it used to say something but it was removed in favor of the tool tip. I don't disagree with the fact that it might need to be more apparent since not everyone reads tool tips, but any changes would have to take the fact that most users only need to be informed once – psubsee2003 Sep 1 '13 at 16:06
Agreed, most users might need to be informed about this only once. But that is true of lots of UI elements that we nevertheless label. IOW, you might need to be informed only once, but it doesn't necessarily hurt to be reminded. A label on the clicked arrow such as (Undo) would not be too much noise, IMO. FWIW, I think I knew long ago about this relatively hidden (yes) undo behavior, but I did not frequent the site for a year or so, and I forgot about it. I guess I needed to be informed twice. ;-) – Drew Sep 1 '13 at 22:42

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