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The questionnaire is a great part of the election process, but during my first (first-hand) experience with an election, over on Code Golf, I've found that the timing of the questionnaire is a bit unfortunate. Others have noted that too in the election chat, so I'm quite surprised that this hasn't been brought up before (at least I can't find anything about it).

The issue is the questionnaire goes up at the same time as the nominations end. If you're lucky, you'll get primaries, "which aren't that important" (maybe...), so it's not so bad if people start voting before the questionnaire results are in. But still, it seems like people who answer the questionnaire quickly might have an advantage in the primaries, because many people will likely visit the election only once, and not check back once the results are in.

This is a lot worse when primaries are skipped. In that case the actual, final voting begins at the same time that the questionnaire is published, so many people will cast their really important votes before any answers are in. I feel like this sort of defeats the purpose of the questionnaire and could lead to the worst incarnation of the FGITW effect anywhere on SE.

Would it be possible to improve the election process in that regard, such that the candidates have a chance to write up their answers before any voting begins?

I see two obvious solutions:

  • Stop the collection of questions for the questionnaire a few days into the nomination phase, such that the last few days of the nomination phase can already be used to answer the questionnaire. Not ideal, because it gives less time to collect the questions, but it would probably already be an improvement.
  • My preferred solution: start collecting the questions a week before the election starts and put up the questionnaire post when the nomination phase starts. This lets people post the answers at the same time as their nomination, and it makes it much easier for voters to consider the candidates before doing any voting. I imagine the post something like "Hey guys, we'll be holding an election starting next week. You can now suggest questions for the questionnaire... [usual blurb]". This would have the additional advantage that people would know about the election in advance, which would make it less likely that someone misses the nomination phase because they happen to be on holiday that week.
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    The second solution is what I assumed would be the case when this election cycle started. It's the intuitive way of doing the questionnaire. – Mego Mar 30 '16 at 20:02
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    The second solution would also give people a heads up that an election will be starting soon- This gives them more time to decide if they want to run, and if so gives them time to get their nomination posts started and proof-read beforehand. (Meaning this may cut down on "last minute" nominations a little bit.) The only problem will be people who wait until the last minute to do the questionnaire... – Kendra Mar 30 '16 at 20:32
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    @Kendra Sure, since the questionnaire isn't mandatory, there will still be people who don't answer it, or answer it late, but at least it gives those candidates who care about it a chance to get it ready (and read) before the primaries/final election starts. – Martin Ender Mar 30 '16 at 20:35
  • The questions are already available to the candidates well before hand. The meta post from which questions are harvested is available to everybody, and candidates can read the questions and prepare answers in advance there. – meagar Aug 23 '16 at 13:45
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    @meagar I don't think collecting questions during the nomination phase qualifies as "well beforehand". Not being able to post the answers until voting starts is way too late. Since not every candidate will be able to post the answers exactly when voting starts, some candidates can be at a disadvantage if they can only post theirs, say, 8 hours later, when lots of votes are already in. At the same time, voters who want to read the questionnaire answers can't actually vote until the answers are in, although those really belong with the nomination. – Martin Ender Aug 23 '16 at 14:07
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We've functionally implemented this into our election workflow now. In conjunction with a smoother system internally for actually scheduling elections, the new election flow works as follows:

Week 1: Someone on the Community Growth team will schedule the election to begin the following week (if it has not yet already been scheduled), and will post the question collection phase. This will allow people to know there's an election upcoming in a much more announced fashion (and get particulars if needed), and people can prepare answers for the questions while pondering their candidacy.

Week 2: The election mechanically starts, triggering the nomination phase. At the same time, the election stats pages, the chat room, and the Q&A questionnaire will all go up. Because of the new timing, candidates are now encouraged to post their responses to the questionnaire at the time of their nomination, and likewise encouraged to link to them in their nominations.

Week 3: The election mechanically advances to the secondary phases as appropriate. Should not enough candidates (N+1 candidates for an election with N slots) have applied then the nomination phase is extended a week and the secondary phases will begin on the following week.

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+50

Option #2 seems like the best approach to me. It doesn't shorten the time for collecting questions (like #1 does), and it doesn't add to the length of an election. SE knows that there is going to be an election some days (at least) in advance of when they kick it off, so starting the question collection early shouldn't require any changes in how they do things other than when they make the post.

I stood in a recent, popular election (19 candidates), and I couldn't help noticing that I wasn't the only candidate who had that answer post ready within an hour or two of the list being finalized. I suspect that I wasn't the only one who was preparing answers in advance, based on the voting and a little guesswork. While you might argue that anticipating the need and being ready is a good trait for a moderator to have, I'd prefer that candidates be able to just answer the questions on meta at the same time they post their nominations on the election page, if they want to. Let's make it easier for candidates and voters.

Edit: SE has now implemented this for several recent elections. A post is made on meta a week before nominations open (example) to collect questions. A week later, the questionnaire is posted at the same time nominations open. The election then follows the usual schedule -- nominations are open for a week before any voting starts, so people can post their nominations and their questionnaire answers at the same time.

  • I agree. It also gives the community a heads-up that the election is even happening. Particularly with summer elections when people may be out of town for weeks at a time, it'd be sad to miss out on good candidates because there was no prior announcement of the election and they happened to be incommunicado that week. The only downside of people posting the nominations with the answers is that this makes the nominations page ridiculously long. I still think we should have the answers on a different page. – Catija Aug 18 '16 at 18:23
  • I didn't mean on the nomination page; they should post the answers on meta same as now. I just meant they could make both posts at the same time, so people reading the nomination could click through and see the answers. – Monica Cellio Aug 18 '16 at 18:33
  • That's fine. It's just something that's unclear to me in both the original question and the answer so I wanted to point it out specifically. :D It's probably just a phrasing thing. – Catija Aug 18 '16 at 18:34
  • @Catija thanks. Better? – Monica Cellio Aug 18 '16 at 18:44
  • @Catija Just to clarify, I also meant that the answers should stay on meta but go up at the same time. If I remember I'll clarify the question after the weekend. – Martin Ender Aug 18 '16 at 22:51
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For an example of how serious this FGITW effect can be, look at the timing of votes in ELL's first election. Fully three quarters of the votes in the first 24 hours. (Other elections aren't so bad, of course, like SO's most recent, but Arqade's 2013 election had a similarly nasty profile, and so did Programmer's and Ask Different's and so on and so forth.) Most of the sites that have rapid voter response also lack a primary, making this a double whammy. Some of that is doubtless offset by tighter communities — more voters have a good idea who they're voting for to start with — but it would be difficult to say how much. Seemingly, this applies to most sites except SO: even SF's most recent election had 50% of its turnout within 24 hours, though at least they had a primary.

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Note that elections are put into the system and publically visible before they actually start. This is typically not noticed by anybody because there is no link to the respective page anywhere and you would have to manually check it to notice, but it was the running ELU election was publicly announced.

So, probably the easiest change to make would be to announce all elections a week before (or similar) in the sidebar. As this can be realised with a featured meta post, so there is no need to change the system at all. This way, everybody can prepare questions for the questionnaire, which solves another FGITW problem, namely that early questionnaire suggestions have a higher chance of making it. Moreover, the questions in the questionnaire are predictable even better than they are now, so that candidates are more likely to have their answers ready, once the actual election starts.

Of course, it would be better to finalise the questionnaire a few days before the start of the election and give candidates the opportunity of answering it, which should pose no problem once the above is implemented. This way, you remove the advantage for those who can be online when the election starts and address the crucial point that, once the please cast your vote message is sent to all voters, they really have all the information they need to vote. Right now, when the message comes, I usually ignore it and return a few days later when all answers to the questionnaire are up – which is very annoying and defies the purpose of the message, which should come when you actually can do something.

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Option #3: Put some time between stages of the election to allow candidates to complete the questionnaire.

Edit: It looks like Option 2 was implemented for the 2016 Stack Overflow mod election.

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    Let's not do this. Elections are multiple weeks long already; we don't need them to be any longer. Elections are often called when existing mods can't handle the load - several weeks is long enough to wait for someone to be installed to help, without extending the election. – ArtOfCode Jul 26 '16 at 10:46
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    @ArtOfCode I was thinking about a day, not another week. But either way, good point. (I prefer OP's second option, but since that's not happening, I thought I'd help expand the space of possibilities). – WBT Jul 26 '16 at 14:03

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