Note: Before I even begin, I want to stress that this is for the next election, not the current one.

I can understand why candidates may want to opt out of the moderator election chat room - for some people chat is just not their thing, and it is not an official moderator duty IIRC.

But I can't think of a good reason why answering the questionnaire is optional.

To me it seems quite disrespectful to not bother posting an answer to the much more important (IMHO) questionnaire, which should allow all candidates to answer - at considerable effort - the same questions about their platform and thoughts about moderation. This is very simply about transparency. This puts everyone on equal ground in terms of information voters have about them. Not answering the questionnaire may allow some candidates to rest on the laurels of their nomination blurb, or their existing popularity, to carry them through the election - without ever having to answer the hard questions about what they will do in certain very relevant moderator activities - ones that often come up as controversial.

For more direct evidence of the harm / ill-will that can be caused when a candidate can abstain from both the chat and the questionnaire if they so choose, here is a direct quote from a candidate in the current election:

I found it incredibly frustrating to have candidates leading the primary, blatantly ignoring the questionnaire - this increased when they were directly asked about it and they responded "what questionnaire?" How engaged will they be as mods when they don't even pay attention to the current process?

And another quote from a different candidate:

[Some] have just been riding the primary votes, no where to be seen in the election chat or make any attempt at answering the questionnaire. This is disturbing because all the other candidates have are putting forth an effort. The way I see it, the votes on the questionnaire should at least represent what's happening in the actual primary. This isn't happening.

Please consider making the questionnaire mandatory. One simple way to do this would be to make answering the questionnaire your official nomination.

This has multiple benefits; in addition to making sure that all voters are privy to all candidates' answers to the questions, it also avoids one seemingly unnecessary step in the process, prevents the current drive-by effect that nomination "votes" can have on an election before these questions are even answered, and potentially shortens up the election period.

That is just one possible implementation - and not one I would argue over. The important thing, in my mind, is getting all candidates on equal footing where they've all had to answer the hard questions in the questionnaire, instead of - or in addition to - whatever self-praising they want to emphasize in their own self-nomination.

It is obviously too late to change these rules for this election, but I think it is a change worthy of consideration for the next election.

-- update

From another site (Math) here are two meta questions that may not directly endorse my idea that the questionnaire should be mandatory, but certainly make it clear that the community finds it questionable when a candidate is relatively unknown, doesn't give the voting pool adequate time to review their qualifications, or doesn't participate in events like the town hall and other chats throughout the process:



Most notably:

By submitting at the last minute this user has avoided much of the individualized questioning the other nominees endured in the comments section of their nomination post.

Arguably you could say the same thing about delaying answering the questionnaire (or not answering it at all).

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    While it isn't mandatory not answering the questionnaire and not participating in any meaningful way once submitting your nomination shows a remarkable level of detachment that i would not expect from a potential future moderator. The role requires ongoing commitment and attention, a candidate needs to show that they are serious about it. – slugster Feb 20 '14 at 7:11
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    @slugster precisely. The problem I see is, when there are 20+ nominees, and many voters are unlikely to read every single word in the questionnaires, how many voters will notice if one or two candidates don't answer? My suggestion is just to ensure that a candidate can't simply not bother and yet still go on and get elected. There's something about that that seems unfair to me, and I don't have any evidence of any argument to keep it optional. – Aaron Bertrand Feb 20 '14 at 12:12
  • I am not intending to look at the answer to the election questionnaire until the final "round" of the election. Maybe canidates should have 3 days between the ends of the primeray and the start of the STV to fill in the answers. – Ian Ringrose Feb 20 '14 at 15:18
  • @IanRingrose I am fine with that. I'm not concerned about when in the process the questionnaire becomes mandatory. Just that it becomes mandatory before the main election begins. :-) – Aaron Bertrand Feb 20 '14 at 15:19
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    If you truly don't care when it is done besides "before the main phase", you'll be happy to know that as of now, only three candidates haven't answered it. Those three are also far down in rankings, the highest currently around 20th. Nobody is "riding the primary" successfully, so this seems like a non-issue. – Geobits Feb 20 '14 at 16:43
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    @Geobits I think it became a non-issue due to strong coercion toward the leading candidate - who allegedly didn't even know about the questionnaire until mid-week. Also, if it's a non-issue, then once again, what is the harm in enforcing that it is a non-issue? – Aaron Bertrand Feb 20 '14 at 16:45
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    So.... the system works without making it mandatory? Cool. – Geobits Feb 20 '14 at 16:46
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    @Geobits sigh I'm sorry that you don't understand the point, but I can't really spend all day educating you about it. – Aaron Bertrand Feb 20 '14 at 16:46
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    @Geobits I think the point is that a candidate that has been leading in the primaries didn't answer the questionnaire until 12 hours ago. – Kermit Feb 20 '14 at 16:50
  • @AaronBertrand Yay for condescension! Please, get back to your more important business. I completely understand your point, but I think you're wrong. No "education" required. – Geobits Feb 20 '14 at 16:50
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    @Geobits well, if you make me feel like I'm talking to a wall... – Aaron Bertrand Feb 20 '14 at 16:51
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    @FreshPrinceOfSO Just to be clear, I'm okay with them not having to answer the thing immediately. But there should be some assurance in place that they will answer it by a certain timeframe (enough time that their answers can be honestly reviewed). – Aaron Bertrand Feb 20 '14 at 16:52
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    Isn't the point of the questionnaire to help convince you to vote for a candidate? If that is the case then they only really matter to the people who plan on reading them for every candidate who is eligible for the current stage of the election? Which would mean that if a candidate didn't take time to fill out the questionnaire then the there would be no reason to vote form them? If you are going to take the time to read them all then you should be voting based on what you read meaning anyone who didn't respond wont get a vote. – Joe W Feb 20 '14 at 21:03
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    @JoeW my fear is that candidates (maybe popular or high-rep ones) who may not be able to really fulfill their duties may still get enough pile-on votes from lemmings that don't even notice that they didn't fill out the questionnaire. Again, it's about transparency and respecting the process (e.g. committing the same amount of work to the election as the other candidates) even if in a lot of cases it might not have a huge impact on the outcome. Do I think many candidates will NOT answer the questionnaire? No. Then what harm is it to make it part of the process, instead of optional? – Aaron Bertrand Feb 20 '14 at 21:06
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    Then the problem isn't the questionnaire and a lack of answers but people voting without doing full diligence. It's is easier to see if someone might not be able to fulfill the requirements if they can't even answer the questionnaire versus being forced to fill it out so they answer it with what they think people want to hear. Personally I think its better for them to answer it on their own (and knowing about it does show a good sign) then filling it out with answers that people want to see but might not actually happen. Again the problem is the voters who vote based on others. – Joe W Feb 20 '14 at 21:12

Not sure that we could do this without building the questionnaire into the election system itself, but the major payoff there would be the avoidance of overworking Grace Note.

I think it'd be nice if:

  • It was part of the election system, stocked with our 'default' questions that we've gathered over time
  • It automatically posted a call to collect more questions on meta
  • It automatically picked the top N for Grace or someone to sanity check
  • After pushing a button, it announced that it's time for the candidates to go answer
  • Automatically linked to the candidate's answers above their nomination (which we did manually this time) in a nice way, giving the context of the questions.

That would save a heck of a lot of work, and make the whole process a little more polished. But, I don't think they should be mandatory, I think folks noticing your lack of answers would likely result in a lack of votes ;) Also, it's very common to see candidates answer things on the weekend the questions get posted, because folks want a larger block of time to put thought into their answers. Don't get too excited about people doing this near the end of the primary - it's rather common.

Sure, moderators need to be able to give 30 minutes a day on average, but 30 minutes of swatting at not-an-answer flags is an entirely different exercise than taking the Kobayashi Maru. Writing answers to these almost requires a contiguous block of time, where the hour you spend moderating might be broken up into 15 minute blocks.

I think we can and should make the questions seem less bolted on than they currently do, but I don't agree that they should be mandatory. Lack of answers is just as guiding as a series of great ones, we can trust folks to figure this out, I'm sure.

  • Well, does the system currently vet candidates automatically (e.g. verify they have the required badges, reputation, tenure, etc.), or is there some human element to that? – Aaron Bertrand Feb 20 '14 at 14:46
  • @Aaron Those are done with a simple query though, since those are distinct entities in the system. Without building things in as Tim notes, we don't have that luxury for the Q&A. Those also don't require a human to process them as I do to select the Q&A currently. – Grace Note Feb 20 '14 at 14:48
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    If you're going to build this in, I would also like a view that shows each question, along with all the candidates' answers to that question together for easy comparison. As it is, It's hard to compare/contrast answers to specific questions without massive amounts of scrolling. – Geobits Feb 20 '14 at 14:49
  • @GraceNote Can't a simply query tell you which user ids have answered the questionnaire? – Aaron Bertrand Feb 20 '14 at 14:50
  • @AaronBertrand It could, but that's still a manual thing, unless the system knew the ID of the parent meta post. Everything beyond taking the nominations, voting in the primary and recording the actual votes is a manual process currently. – Tim Post Feb 20 '14 at 14:51
  • @Tim I completely understand if you don't want to change the process. I'm not too keen on believing that the reason is the amount of effort required to grab the ID of the question and run a query. :-) – Aaron Bertrand Feb 20 '14 at 14:55
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    @AaronBertrand Not what I was saying, I'm just saying, there's currently no facility to prevent people from advancing that didn't answer the questions (same with badges) is all. The query could tell us who didn't write an answer to the question on meta, but it wouldn't tell us if they answered them all. Still kinda have to manually check it, as it's set up. – Tim Post Feb 20 '14 at 14:58
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    @Tim Ah, I see, ok. I think that's fine. If they want to answer the questionnaire and only answer one of the questions, that's a lot more transparent than letting them not answer the questionnaire at all. Thanks. – Aaron Bertrand Feb 20 '14 at 15:02
  • maybe all answeers should be hidden until all canidates have had at least 7 days to complete them. Also what about canidates that are on holiday? – Ian Ringrose Feb 20 '14 at 15:20
  • @IanRingrose Holiday? What holiday? They will be a moderator on SO, no vacation for them! :) – Taryn Feb 20 '14 at 15:35
  • @Ian In 7 days from when the questions get posted there will only be 1 day left for the final voting phase. – Grace Note Feb 20 '14 at 15:39
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    @Geobits That was something I liked from the original Town Hall Digests that Tim Stone used to do - but that was in part made convenient through the setup available there. In this version, I found it easier for the answerers to address the block on their own rather than having a bunch of answers to edit, but if we did build it in, being able to choose a view between by-question and by-answerer seems extremely useful. – Grace Note Feb 20 '14 at 15:49
  • Why not just make an election SE site where candidates can only answer? The questions would be ready for them, then they have n days to answer them. After that period, the candidates with the most rep move on to the election phase? – Kermit Feb 20 '14 at 15:51
  • And by most rep, I mean rep from the answers they provide. – Kermit Feb 20 '14 at 16:00
  • Truthfully I think it will only really help if voters where also required to read them prior to voting. And yes I do know that they could still just scroll to the bottom to "Read" them. – Joe W Feb 20 '14 at 21:08

I think that transparency is the main key here. Whether the questionnaire needs to be required is debatable but knowing what candidates have or have not participated shouldn't be. I appreciate how everything is beginning to be linked together on all of the various pages and feel that process should be more standard. There is a lot of information to go through and making it easier to locate and digest should be a priority so that everyone can make better informed decisions and not just the ones that know where to look.

Honestly, I'm quite bothered to find out that there is a candidate who not only was not participating in the questionnaire and chat but was completely unaware about it. And to make matters worse I was unaware of this inaction. I don't visit chat but I stalk Meta. Even then I was not able to determine which candidates had gone through the questionnaire even though I had gone through that page a few times. Having the links from the election page helps with that and is a good step towards creating this transparency.

So TL;DR A candidates activity in the election should be more obvious regardless of if that activity is required or not.


Requiring the questionnaire doesn't actually solve any problems. I like the questionnaire. I really do. Requiring it, though, doesn't seem to address any existing significant concern, so I'm not sure it needs to be changed.

  • Well if you disagree with my suggestion because of my implementation choice, that is just one way it could be done. It could certainly be kept as is, but simply require that every candidate answer the questionnaire. (Also, I think making judgments about who you want to be your moderator based solely on their own self-praising blurb, you may not be giving your vote the respect it deserves.) – Aaron Bertrand Feb 20 '14 at 4:46
  • @Aaron - I agree, the questionnaire is helpful. Does it need to be a requirement, though? In other words, is requiring it solving a particular problem? And I'm not sure what you mean - the personal blurb highlights the goals and intents of the user, and gives insight into their approach toward interaction and modification. It also, most importantly, reveals how the candidates see themselves. – user206222 Feb 20 '14 at 4:48
  • Answering "why do you think you would be a good moderator" is a much more softball question than the more difficult ones imposed by the questionnaire. Saying you want to make the site a better place and that you like spending time here is not something that's easy to be held accountable for, and doesn't necessarily give voters any information of how you'll actually act as a moderator. The questionnaire gets hot and heavy about several issues that are frequent points of contention and I think it's much more useful to know about those behaviors than the touchy-feely "I'm awesome!" nominations. – Aaron Bertrand Feb 20 '14 at 4:53
  • @Aaron I agree, but only for the candidates I already feel would make good moderators. There are a few critical things I'm looking for in the nominations which have nothing to do with what they say they're going to do. Everyone's going to say "I'm going to help the site." It's the manner in which they present the nomination - and themselves, primarily - which dictates my impression of them. And whether I'm interested in reading what they have to say about deeper issues. – user206222 Feb 20 '14 at 4:55
  • Fundamentally, this is a contention about how we read moderator nominations, and not about the content of the questionnaire. As a more logical argument, I don't see how requiring it actually solves any issues with the election process, so I don't really see much of a need to change it. – user206222 Feb 20 '14 at 4:56
  • I've updated my question to emphasize that I don't really care about removing the self-nomination blurbs; I'm focused on making the questionnaire mandatory. – Aaron Bertrand Feb 20 '14 at 4:56
  • I don't know how many other ways I can explain to you why I think the answers to the questionnaire can be important to some voters (even if you may not agree). – Aaron Bertrand Feb 20 '14 at 4:57
  • @Aaron It's probably one of the most important pieces of information to me as well. I don't disagree with you. The questionnaire is super helpful. It just doesn't improve anything to require it. – user206222 Feb 20 '14 at 4:58
  • sure it does. You don't think that someone who writes an "awesome" self-nomination blurb, is already popular, and carries those votes into the election is at an advantage? They didn't have to answer any of the hard questions. If I really want to know what moderator is going to be super-nice or super-not-nice to new users, shouldn't I be able to get that information about all candidates, not just the ones that bothered answering? Imagine if your city had a mayoral race, and one candidate (say, a former actor) refused to attend debates, or answer questions about property tax hikes. – Aaron Bertrand Feb 20 '14 at 5:03
  • Someone who is well-liked enough to become nominated without answering questions about that they intend to do, what their preferences are, etc. are probably already good enough to be elected. To use your example, that candidate wouldn't be elected if nobody knew who they were. If everyone already knew and trusted them, though, they might have a chance at pulling it off. Regardless, that's sort of an edge case on Stack Overflow. It's not like people are going to seriously vote for anyone without considering them - and even so, they'd do it anyway, even if the questionnaire were required. – user206222 Feb 20 '14 at 5:05
  • Also, I'll flip it around : what do you think is possibly lost by making each candidate demonstrate their commitment by thinking hard about those situations and explain what they would do? Why do you think a candidate shouldn't have to answer the questions? – Aaron Bertrand Feb 20 '14 at 5:05
  • If there is nothing significant to be lost or gained, why change the system? I guess that's what my response boils down to. Even if nothing is lost, nothing significant is gained – user206222 Feb 20 '14 at 5:08
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    But the assertion has holes :P See the above comment. If someone doesn't answer questions, it's their loss, not ours. Quite literally. – user206222 Feb 20 '14 at 5:11
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    Of course I do - have I not gotten any of those points across in all this back-and-forth? Do you think I created this question because I think that making all candidates answer the questionnaire would be a fun wrench to throw into the election process? It seems like a pretty logical thing to require (especially since most will do it anyway), and current mods have told me that there isn't really any reason why it is currently optional. I don't know why you find this simple change so objectionable. – Aaron Bertrand Feb 20 '14 at 5:21
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    If you were a Jon Skeet in your area of expertise and many people recognised your merits as an expert, you would likely be very popular. If you decided then to nominate yourself for a moderator position (because you felt confident about that), most likely your popularity would bring you many upvotes, but that would say little about how good you would be as a moderator, because being a good answerer and helper (as an expert) is not the same as being able to face tough situations. That's the point I understand @Aaron was trying to get through to you. – Andriy M Feb 20 '14 at 14:34

The important thing, in my mind, is getting all candidates on equal footing where they've all had to answer the hard questions ...

The way I look at it, they are on an equal footing. They've all been asked the questions. You can use their response, or lack of response, as basis for your vote. If you feel any elected moderator should answer, then simply don't vote for anyone who doesn't answer it.

The problem I see is, when there are 20+ nominees, and many voters are unlikely to read every single word in the questionnaires, how many voters will notice if one or two candidates don't answer?

To voters who won't read the answers, it cannot possibly matter what the answers are, or if they're even there. If they don't even notice whether someone's answered, then it doesn't matter. Those voters are voting based on other things. Whether that's "popularity" or something else, it wouldn't change your vote if you're not even going to read the answers.

... to carry them through the election - without ever having to answer the hard questions about what they will do ...

If a person gets elected despite not answering the questionnaire, they've probably already answered the hard questions. Not necessarily in words, but in their actions around the site. I can't think of any moderator that's been elected that failed miserably at it, and I believe that any of (what I consider) the likely candidates would do a good job.

To speak personally, I had already made up my mind about most candidates before the questionnaire was even up. Based on what I'd seen from them around the site/meta, how they talked in the nomination phase, their stats and history, etc. I hung out in chat a bit to get a better feel for a couple of them. At that point, I felt I had what I needed to make the vote. There were a couple nominees I felt I still didn't know well enough, so I just didn't vote them up or down. How much more is the questionnaire really going to help me?

TL;DR: I say it does not need to be mandatory. It's no different than any other election. If a candidate chooses not to answer the voters, then that's just another factor voters can use to decide. Or ignore. Their choice.

  • I think it's quite possible, though, as @AndriyM indicated below, for someone to nominate themselves expecting to win based on popularity alone. I don't think that's equal footing if they haven't treated the questionnaire seriously. I also don't think it's a hardship to ask these people - who are pledging to be as committed to the site as a moderator needs to be - to answer some questions pertaining directly to how they are going to moderate. Abstaining from the chat and refusing to answer the questions opens the door for voters to not have the ability to change their mind about a candidate. – Aaron Bertrand Feb 20 '14 at 14:38
  • If someone is going to win based on popularity alone, how will the questionnaire change that? Informed voters might see something to change their mind, but informed voters, by definition, don't base their votes simply on popularity. – Geobits Feb 20 '14 at 14:40
  • It's about respecting the process and going through the same effort as the other candidates. I don't see any reason to allow a candidate to abstain from answering the questionnaire (or why one would want to, but that's a different issue). Can you explain what benefit there is to not making it mandatory? Other than status quo and that voters will have less to read? – Aaron Bertrand Feb 20 '14 at 14:45
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    The first benefit I can think of is that it immediately shows people who care (like yourself) whether a candidate respects the process or not. It's quicker to see that a candidate has/hasn't answered than to see if they've answered truthfully, or are just answering with populist platitudes. – Geobits Feb 20 '14 at 14:47
  • But that's only if I notice or if I'm checking for their answer explicitly. I can tell you right now, I have no idea if all candidates in the current election have answered the questionnaire. I'd feel much better knowing that they had to, and ergo that when it's time to vote, I'll have the ability to evaluate all of their answers, and not possibly miss out on someone's answers (which I may strongly agree or strongly disagree with). I don't see what harm there is in ensuring that all candidates supply this information. – Aaron Bertrand Feb 20 '14 at 14:49
  • But you still haven't shown that there is harm in the current process. – Geobits Feb 20 '14 at 14:51
  • sigh I'd like a stop light at the end of my street, but the city won't listen to me, because I can't prove to them how frustrating it is to sit there for 10 minutes at rush hour trying to turn left. – Aaron Bertrand Feb 20 '14 at 14:52
  • If it's so busy that you have to wait 10 minutes, how many other people would that light affect adversely? I'll admit, this isn't the best analogy, but if you want to change any large system, you need to bring proof (or least some evidence) that it will bring positive change, not just a lack of negative change. – Geobits Feb 20 '14 at 14:55
  • I've updated my question with some of the direct, negative impact it can have when a candidate doesn't fill out the questionnaire (or participate in the chat). – Aaron Bertrand Feb 20 '14 at 15:25
  • I'm sorry, I don't see a candidate complaining/commenting/disparaging about other candidates as direct, negative impact. I see that as basic human nature and/or politics. – Geobits Feb 20 '14 at 15:31
  • you don't see value in making sure the candidates feel the election is balanced and transparent? Okay, that's fine. But I don't think you should outwardly oppose making them feel that way just to maintain status quo. – Aaron Bertrand Feb 20 '14 at 15:34
  • Nice strawman. Candidates throughout history (especially those not doing so well) have complained about some aspect of the process. Whether it's to make themselves feel they didn't do so bad or just to put down those that are, it doesn't matter. Candidates complaining about the process is simply human nature, and you see it everywhere. Just to name a couple from US election cycles: "These polls have a liberal bias", "voter fraud", controversy over the electoral college, etc. That's not good evidence. – Geobits Feb 20 '14 at 15:38

The questionnaire should absolutely be mandatory.

While I haven't analyzed previous elections, I would guess that higher rep users are carried in elections. This election, it has led to a particular candidate to completely ignore requests to participate in chat or the questionnaire. The problem is further amplified by that candidate's questionable Meta question (removed by candidate). Instead, the candidate has laid low to ride through the primaries. I hate to make this analogy, but it feels like a political election in which the candidate with the most money (rep) rides through the primaries.

I feel that the questionnaire should be used as the criteria for a candidate's nomination. What I mean by this is that the nomination summary provides little value in how the candidate would actually react in situations that are addressed by the questionnaire. As mentioned above, a mandatory questionnaire would most likely raise popular concerns before entering primaries.

Moreover, it would seem logical that the questionnaire votes represent the actual primary performance. This obviously isn't the case.

As Tim Post mentioned, the questionnaire should be integrated into the nomination and become mandatory. I take this one step further and propose that it replace the nomination summary. I feel that the questionnaire would better reflect how a candidate would perform as a moderator, because it's obvious that high rep <> good potential moderator.

  • Either people are going to make decisions based on what they read in the questionnaire or not. If someone decides to not answer the questions then it should make the decision to vote/not vote for them easier as they didn't take the time to answer them which can say for what time they will take as a moderator. Forcing people to answer the questions takes this easy check out for people that do read answers and it doesn't change anything for people who don't read them. – Joe W Feb 20 '14 at 21:07

Go a step further, make it mandatory for voters to read too. Or at least page through like the about page.

An uninformed vote is worse than no vote at all.

  • Making answering the questionnaire an official nomination would probably kill two birds with one stone, no? – Andriy M Feb 20 '14 at 15:40
  • @AndriyM you mean in place of the candidate statement? That would probably help, yes. Maybe just make sure they have scrolled to the bottom to read all the nominations too. – Kevin Feb 20 '14 at 15:47
  • @AndriyM If voters are not reading the questionnaires then what does it matter if they where answered at all? – Joe W Feb 25 '14 at 14:04
  • @JoeW: Well, as I understand it, Aaron's idea was to make sure that the candidates answer the questionnaire and to make the answers the primary source of information about the candidates (because the answers would replace the current free-form statement). Skipping the answers would mean for the voter same as not reading the nomination statement(s). So, as far as the voters are concerned, this idea would merely encourage voters to read the questionnaire. (In contrast, Kevin is suggesting some method of guaranteeing that voters do read the answers.) – Andriy M Feb 25 '14 at 16:00

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