I have been watching the current election on SO extremely closely, and am participating in it as well. I have a number of thoughts and I am not sure if they are valid. I know others have had thoughts about various aspects of this election as well. To that end I think it's important to lay out some groundwork on the current state and intentions of the election system, so that we can all be on the same page.

While this post does a good job of describing the mechanics (and some of the philosophy behind the nomination phase), it is limited in scope. I have spent a fair bit of time browsing through as well.

So, basically, can the following blanks be filled in?

  • The purpose of the nomination phase is to allow candidates to _____.
  • The purpose of the nomination phase is to allow voters to _____.
  • The purpose of the primaries are to allow candidates to _____.
  • The purpose of the primaries are to allow voters to _____.
  • The purpose of the final election phase is to allow candidates to _____.
  • The purpose of the final election phase is to allow voters to _____.


  • I am asking about elections network-wide, but if SO is a special case, are there any relevant differences in the above?

I am looking for the above with respect to candidates and voters during the phases, rather than the election system as a whole. Basically, if a candidate or voter were to ask "What does this phase do for me?". (For example: The primaries "allow voters to get to know the candidates" rather than "narrow down the candidate choices to make the list more manageable".)

I'm ideally looking for an answer from an SE employee, preferably from somebody who has been involved in designing the process in the past.

I am not necessarily looking for 100% accurate, definitive ultimate goals; only a sense of the current system, even if the system is still evolving (for example).

I am just trying to get a handle on where it currently stands so that I can figure out which of my own opinions are valid or completely off-base. The intent here is to make sure everybody is on the same page, not to praise or criticize the current process and philosophies. Also, my perception is that some SE folks are thinking about this internally as well (although this may be incorrect, is it?), so this may help make the current state more concrete.

  • 3
    Great work on your election coverage BTW - you'd make a good election reporter :)
    – slugster
    Apr 14, 2015 at 10:50

1 Answer 1


I'm not an SE employee, but I've stood in two elections, I've voted in several more, and I spend a fair bit of time on MSE.

The purpose of the nomination phase is to allow candidates to make their interest known and start the conversation. It's when we all find out who might be interested in the job ("might" because people can and do withdraw).

This phase also allows candidates who recognize (based on initial feedback) that they're not a good fit for the job after all to withdraw gracefully, before any votes have been cast.

The purpose of the nomination phase is to allow voters to start to get to know the candidates. The survey hasn't yet been posted, but commenting on nomination posts is a regular activity. Candidates might update nomination statements in response to questions in comments, giving everybody a better picture of that candidate. Voters can start to poke around candidates' profiles and activity on the site. This phase is the initial "meet & greet" of the election.

Some candidates' aspirations will exceed their (current) abilities. This phase allows voters to signal that gracefully, before votes start accumulating.

The nomination phase also allows voters to propose questions for the survey. More about that in the next phase.

Note: in smaller elections the primaries phase doesn't happen, collapsing down into the election. For those cases, what I say here about primaries applies to the early stage of the election phase. There might not be a primary, but there's still a phase of sorts.

The purpose of the primaries is to allow candidates to present their "platform" in more detail. The most important part of this phase for candidates is the survey, a set of about ten questions that is posed to all candidates. A candidate has a full meta post in which to answer -- way more chance for elaboration, clarification, and qualification than will fit in a nomination blurb or a few comments. This is where candidates can show everybody why they're good choices. Astute candidates will have started to answer these questions in advance of the formal survey so they can be ready to go promptly.

The purpose of the primaries is to allow voters to sort the pack. In a large election like SO's, voters just aren't going to do a deep study of all 30 candidates -- it's too much. Voters will make some initial decisions here, based on the blurbs, informal discussion (chat and comments), their own knowledge of candidates' histories, and perhaps by skimming some of the early survey responses.

The purpose of the final election phase is to allow candidates to win, or not. Candidates don't do, or benefit, much in this phase otherwise; this phase is for the voters. The main opportunity for candidates is to respond to anything that voters have raised or are raising.

The purpose of the final election phase is to allow voters to review the "short list" in more detail and make decisions. By the time this phase starts most of the candidates should have answered the survey; voters can review those to get a deeper understanding of each candidate and, for the issues they're most interested in, see a direct comparison of how different candidates responded to the same inputs.

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    This is an awesome explanation, thanks. Based on your time on metas and past experience, have any of the points been a subject of controversy among staff and moderators (rather than among general users) in the past and still remain controversial or open?
    – Jason C
    Apr 14, 2015 at 21:33
  • 1
    I can't think of a lot that's controversial. It's of course possible that I've missed things that you'd have to be an SE employee to know. Apr 14, 2015 at 21:44
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    I've just made a small update to cover an additional case that I've seen: sometimes you have a good solid user, somebody who may be a good moderator some day but not now, who's in over his head and might not realize it. You don't want to chase such people away, but you want to signal that -- and if you're the candidate, you want to find that out before you're facing embarrassing downvotes in the primary. I've sometimes seen discussion of that kind of situation in a site's main chat room or an election room, leading to questions that cause a candidate to rethink a bid. Apr 14, 2015 at 21:45
  • 1
    Excellent, thanks. Seems like a solid analysis to me. Also this would make great FAQ material.
    – Jason C
    Apr 14, 2015 at 21:47

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