Determining whether a specific user is a sock puppet is not an exact science. While many cases are clear-cut, the line can get a lot fuzzier when for example coworkers and friends are involved. So while I'm confident that we moderators get it right most of the time, there is still a chance of error.
The three main options for dealing with vote fraud are
- Invalidate the votes between the users and suspend them (invalidation can only be performed by SE employees)
- Delete the sock puppet
- Merge the sock puppet into the main account
In ambiguous cases, moderators will usually choose the first option. It deals effectively with the vote fraud and is by far the least dangerous option.
The problematic part is merging, which used to be the default way of dealing with sock puppets. Merging is an incredibly dangerous tool, and the reason for my feature request is that I think it should never be used without explicit consent of the account owners. A hostile merge like one performed for sock puppets also merges login credentials, potentially giving a user access to a different account if such a merge was performed in error. A merge is also not easily reversible, though some rudimentary undo functionality exists now.
I'd like to make merges consensual in all cases, moderators should only merge users if the user themselves request it. This means that we need a different tool for dealing with obvious sock puppets.
So what I imagine is a "This is a sock puppet of user x" button in the mod menu. This button would invalidate votes (pending SE approval, as mods can't do that), probably transfer ownership of all content to the sock puppeteer and delete the account (a reversible deletion might be nice, but probably too complicated to implement). It would explicitly not transfer OpenID logins or any other profile information. The idea is that the process is at least somewhat reversible and safe, that it can't accidentally expose a users account to another user.
Another reason I'm proposing this is that the exact way that sock puppets are dealt with has changed over time, and I suspect that many moderators are not aware of the current SE policy on that subject. Most moderators (except for SO and maybe trilogy mods) don't have to deal with sock puppets often. Making the sock puppet removal an explicit option removes the need to educate all users about the process and all the potential dangers and reduces the chance of mistakes.