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Moderator election have a fixed number of free slots, the exact number of slots is determined by SE staff before the election. I'm not sure how they do that, it probably involves reading the entrails of unicorns or something like that.

SE is usually rather conservative in choosing this number in my experience, an that is certainly appropriate considering the amount of trouble and damage a rogue or unqualified moderator could potentially cause. But I also feel that by setting the number low, we often miss the chance to elect some really good candidates on sites that could need a moderator more or two (=Stack Overflow).

So what I want to propose is to allow for more moderators to be chosen in an election as there are official free slots. This already happens if a moderator steps down shortly after an election, but I think a similar mechanism would be useful in other situations as well.

This should still be somewhat democratic, and not solely decided by SE. One option I think would work well would be to put the decision to increase the number of slots when the election is finished to the existing moderators. If the existing moderators unanimously decide that they could need some more help and that the next candidate in line would make for a good moderator, they could vote to increase the available slots.

This would allow SE to continue setting the number of slots at a level where it is very unlikely that unsuitable candidates are elected due to a lack of qualified nominations, but allow the ranks of moderators to be filled more quickly if enough suitable candidates are nominated and voted for.

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  • Related: why-so-few-moderators
    – juergen d
    Dec 17, 2013 at 21:24
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    Interesting idea, but I don't see how this is compatible with a transparent election process. Why would the expected number of new moderators needed suddenly change after an election? Wouldn't it always amount to some people saying, "awww, person XYZ didn't make it, that's a shame, let's take them on board, too"? While often justifiable (many great users have just barely missed becoming a mod), that wouldn't amount to much more than cronyism. If anything, moderators should have a say in how many new mods are needed beforehand
    – Pekka
    Dec 17, 2013 at 21:42
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    @Pëkka My impression is that SE is very reluctant to make the number of open slots higher than 3-4. And they also don't seem to want to hold elections too often to avoid election fatigue. So there seems to be a practical limit to the number of open slots, and in the case of SO it is lower than what SO could actually use in my opinion. Just increasing the number of open spots seems somewhat risky as elections tend to be unpredictable, that is why I'm putting forward this compromise. Dec 17, 2013 at 21:55
  • @Mad but what is the only thing that changes between before and after the election? The names of the runners up become known. So the existing mods would get to decide whether they want to take more candidates on board based on who they like - candidates that the community (however narrowly) rejected. While I (knowing the existing mods) wouldn't have any problem with that at all, you have to admit it wouldn't exactly be a democratic process. If the 3-4 mod slots that SE choose to open are too few, then the mods need to step up and pressure them into opening more - but beforehand. IMO.
    – Pekka
    Dec 17, 2013 at 22:00
  • @Pëkka The cutoff is arbitrary in the first place, that is the main reason why I think this method would be defensible. And we already go beyond the cutoff in cases of mods resigning. My impression is that SE is not willing to set the number of open spots to a value where there would be a significant chance of electing a problematic candidate just because it turned out that the field of candidates was rather weak this time. Dec 17, 2013 at 22:04
  • @Mad yeah, it is arbitrary, true enough. But has a problematic candidate ever made it that far, though? Maybe on smaller sites, but not on SO methinks?
    – Pekka
    Dec 17, 2013 at 22:06
  • @Pëkka We're also only a semi-democracy in the first place, SE can ovveride the moderators at any time. And in the case that the moderators became untrustworthy, we would have to rely on SE to force a completely new team of mods, so I'm generally operating under the assumption that the current mods have not gone rogue. Dec 17, 2013 at 22:06
  • Sure, you can question how much merit there is to calling the elections "democratic" in the first place. But if it's about problematic/potentially untrustworthy mods, then perhaps the SE team should openly veto candidates if that happens. It would arguably be more honest than the "we looked at the runner-ups and suddenly realized we need more mods" route....
    – Pekka
    Dec 17, 2013 at 22:08
  • @Pëkka SE can already veto candidates if the play the "user in good standing" card. They haven't so far, and from everything I've heard they are very reluctant to ever use this term. Dec 17, 2013 at 22:10
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    @Pëkka I also intentionally put the decision into the hands of the moderators and not SE. While I personally trust them with such decisions, they are very, very reluctant to interfere with the elections. Putting it into the hands of elected moderators makes this still somewhat democratic, though indirect. Dec 17, 2013 at 22:24
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    I totally think the mods are worth trusting on this, no doubt. The existing mods could be picking the new mods instead of the community for all I care. But if you're having community elections, then this arbitrary extension must appear strange and confusing to the voter. That's my only concern. But then, if people agree this is needed (especially mods), maybe it is an option.... although I'm not sure potential problem candidates are the only reason why SE are so stingy with slots
    – Pekka
    Dec 17, 2013 at 22:31

1 Answer 1

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One option I think would work well would be to put the decision to increase the number of slots when the election is finished to the existing moderators.

We already consult the existing moderators when determining the number of available slots.

Electing a rogue moderator isn't really a concern when we think about how many moderators to add to the team. We could have 1 slot and still end up with someone entirely unsuitable.

Here are the main things that we take into consideration:

  • How big is the moderation workload on the site? Is it adequately handled by the existing team?
  • Is the team going to be unmanageably large (which hinders consistency and communication) if we elect X more moderators?
  • Is the site likely to actually have enough candidates to fill X slots?

We ask ourselves the first question once a year, give or take, assuming no moderators resign in the meantime. We then ask it of the existing moderator team to see how they feel the site is working and whether or not more people would help or hinder.

Other things to consider (although to me, they're of lesser importance) are things like

  • Will the existing team be able to properly train the new additions? Are we adding too many people at once?
  • Will folks who spent their three votes on candidates X, Y, and Z feel that candidate Q who came in 5th wasn't "properly" elected? (The mechanics here are correctly taken care of for us by the STV method, but psychology is a funny thing.)

More isn't always better. In the case of Stack Overflow specifically, we can't keep throwing more people at it. That's not going to scale and arguably it already isn't scaling. I think we're better off spending more time on improving mod tools and streamlining what moderators have to handle and what the community can deal with better than pulling an Oprah and saying that everybody can get a diamond.

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    April Fool's Day 2014: everyone is a moderator except for elected moderators. Afterwords, we restore everything from backups and agree to never speak of it again.
    – Shog9
    Dec 17, 2013 at 22:36
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    @Shog9 I'll bring the popcorn if you get the whiskey.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Dec 17, 2013 at 22:37
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    I certainly agree that moderators don't scale indefinitely, but my distinct impression is that SO is far, far off compared to any other site in moderator workload. Improving community moderations and mod tools is important, but I still think that leaving SO so far behind in mod numbers is problematic and likely to burn out more mods than necessary. And of course, just increasing the number of open spots would obsolete my entire feature request. Dec 17, 2013 at 22:38
  • @MadScientist We're definitely keeping a close eye on SO and working with the mods there to make sure they don't all go a bit loopy from the amount of stuff they have to deal with. Given the number of flags SO gets, solving it with just adding enough mods to bring SO up to par with the average # of flags handled by mods on other sites just isn't going to work, though. With all that said, I personally think that most other sites are underworked. It's a tough thing to balance, which is why we're doing more talking to the site mods now to see how they feel things are going.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Dec 17, 2013 at 22:40
  • I think the proposal talks of enabling the last slot after the election is over with the consensus of the current mods. That would prevent rogue mods from being elected. Dec 17, 2013 at 23:27
  • @Mr.PeanutMonopolyMcManish "That would prevent rogue mods from being elected." - That's attempting to solve a problem that literally doesn't exist. And you're assuming that a rogue mod couldn't come in first.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Dec 17, 2013 at 23:28
  • Oh wait, I misinterpreted the answer. Dec 17, 2013 at 23:29
  • Training? There was supposed to be training? I was merely told to wait until my second day to start wreaking havoc... Dec 18, 2013 at 6:31
  • @AdamLear Maybe I miss something but I see a contradiction between your post and faq post in the phrase "In some cases, election runner-ups may later be called in to meet additional demand.". So as far as I understand the number of slots was always semi-flexible. Also on SO there were plenty of precedents where moderators were "called up after the election to meet additional demand". Jun 5, 2019 at 8:23

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