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I have many accounts on SE sites with little or no activity, and I get invitations to vote in their elections despite of that. Sure, sensible users will not vote, but sometimes they will, just out of curiosity or because they don't know how much their vote matters. And many people like that voting on superficial indicators of candidate quality such as candidate rating and the length of their nomination posts, skews the results.

Not displaying the invitation to visit the voting page is a bad idea for various reasons, so I'm not proposing that.

What I propose is for the users who have no recent activity to add a notice at the top of the election page saying roughly this:

It seems like you don't have any recent activity on this site. If you don't have enough experience using this particular site, please consider refraining from voting or researching the candidates to make an educated vote.

I would add something about knowing mods from other sites, and if they were good there, it's ok to vote for them, but that might not be a good idea because they might not be as good as other candidates on a SE site with a different topic.

If you think users should be encouraged to vote regardless of their inactivity on a site, I'd like to hear why.

  • 1
    As a user with little recent activity on one of the sites I can vote on, I don't see the point to this. If the user cares enough to vote in the first place, chances are they're going to do their homework on the candidates before voting. There is a lot of information you can go through and that gets brought up for each candidate that nominates themselves. Their nomination post, you can look through their meta participation, you can read their questionaire answers (if they care to post them), the comments under their nomination post... There's a lot to look at, regardless of activity. – Kendra Sep 1 '16 at 16:47
  • (cont.) If a user bothers to do their homework, why tell them "please don't cast your vote" instead of encouraging them to make an informed decision? Just because I'm not active currently doesn't mean I won't be after certain circumstances change, and at that point it'd be nice to know that I had some sort of hand in picking the mods I'll deal with when I become active again. – Kendra Sep 1 '16 at 16:49
  • You're assuming a user cares enough to vote, but I'm talking about only caring enough to click on a notification, which requires much less effort than reading through everything and voting only after having formed an educated opinion. And I'm afraid that's enough to cause some random votes. And in case a user does do their homework, they will surely understand that this message is not meant for them, and they will take no offense. – user1306322 Sep 1 '16 at 16:49
  • Even just reading through the nomination posts to pick who to "randomly" vote for is doing some sort of homework. I doubt there are more than a handful of people who would go in and just click on three buttons and leave. (In the last round of voting- In preliminaries, the voting is just to narrow down the candidates. I see even less harm being done in the preliminaries, in most cases.) And honestly, if a user doesn't care enough to vote... Why stay on the page, or even click on the notification in the first place? You're assuming a user who doesn't care would even visit the page. – Kendra Sep 1 '16 at 16:52
  • A handful is enough to skew results on sites with little activity and a small user base. I don't have access to the numbers but I suspect it matters and we should do what we can to improve the voting quality. And it's not like I'm asking for the world here :p – user1306322 Sep 1 '16 at 16:54
16

Kinda had my hands full last week when I answered this; re-reading it today, I think my original answer was a bit glib. Lemme see if I can convey my thoughts in a way that's a bit more respectful of your concerns...

Let's back up a step and review the charter for electing moderators:

The community is the source of everything useful that happens to exist on our websites. We gladly reciprocate by trusting you to lead and govern your own community. Democratically elected community moderators are the ultimate goal of, and foundation for, every site in our network.

-- Stack Exchange Moderator Elections Begin

Who is this "community"?

Community is one of those words that gets tossed around so often that it quickly becomes trite. And yet, that is the explicit goal of these sites: to be more than just dead repositories of information, but rather a living collaboration among individuals dedicated to the subject. So who does "community" refer to here, in the context of elections?

Well, what is the outcome of an election? A team of elected moderators:

We designed the Stack Exchange network engine to be mostly self-regulating, in that we amortize the overall moderation cost of the system across thousands of teeny-tiny slices of effort contributed by regular, everyday users

...

Even with active community self-regulation, moderators occasionally need to intervene. Moderators are human exception handlers, there to deal with those (hopefully rare) exceptional conditions that should not normally happen, but when they do, they can bring your entire community to a screaming halt -- if you don't have human exception handling in place.

...

As a moderator, your actions now represent the community, so you will be held to a higher standard of behavior. You are an ambassador of trust, with the same sorts of rights that the official development team and community coordinators have.

A moderator is a representative, trusted to act on the behalf of the regular users in situations where they cannot self-moderate. This, then, is the "community" who moderators are elected to represent: anyone who has ever participated constructively, anyone trusted to perform one of the countless small actions that - combined - account for the bulk of moderation performed on the site.

This is probably a lot more people than you would tend to think of when thinking of a site, especially if you're not actively involved on the site day-to-day. Heck... On any site running elections, there's a good chance this is more people than you would tend to think of even if you are actively involved on the site day-to-day. The true power of these sites is always found in the long tail, and that applies to moderation as well: we don't rely on small social groups to possess the breadth of knowledge for a given site's topics, nor can we afford to do so when it comes to moderating them.

Why elect moderators?

Given the (relative!) insignificance of moderators when it comes to the vast bulk of moderation tasks, why do we bother with all this rigmarole when choosing them? It comes down to trust: although relatively infrequent, these elected moderators will often be asked to intervene in situations that are extraordinarily complicated, sensitive, visible, or all of the above. In order to resolve these potentially catastrophic problems, they will have to make hard decisions, take controversial actions, and express strong opinions. And they will do all of this in the name of the community that they represent.

...This is awful hard to do when the community doesn't accept that you represent them.

When sites are very new, moderators are still needed; until elections can be organized, that role is filled by employees (like myself) and then pro tempore moderators (which are appointed by employees, usually based on recommendations from the community). Finally, when the community has reached a size sufficient to allow an election to be completed successfully, moderators are elected directly.

This process is based on 6+ years of... Well, mostly trial, error and observation:

  • We observed that when employees moderate, the level of trust accorded them by most communities is low: on most sites, we don't actually qualify as members of the community, so it is hard to see us as representatives.

  • We observed that when appointed moderators moderate, the level of trust accorded them is higher but still insufficient for the most controversial of actions: even when they've earned the support of the initial core membership (as indicated by voting on meta), the vast bulk of the site's community - as defined above - see them as no different from themselves and can take umbrage at the idea that they should be given more trust.

  • We observed that elected moderators - when chosen by a public and well-publicized election - are frequently able to make the same decisions as pro tempore mods or employees without the associated controversy. Indeed, it has become commonplace to see a site divided by indecision over one issue or another reunite after their first election. This harmony is so valuable as to outweigh all the disadvantages inherent in running elections the way we do...

Why solicit broad participation?

So now hopefully we have enough information to answer the question that underlies your feature-request: why would we trust someone to vote in an election if they aren't involved enough in the site to already know that an election is occurring?

And the answer is simply this: we need them to trust that the moderator who is eventually elected will represent them.

In other words, the voter themselves is more important than the moderator they vote for. The election is conducted for their benefit, as a ritual to establish trust between those who care at least enough to vote and those who will eventually be elected. When, in the past, we've failed to include people in this ritual, the outcry has been immediate and insistent.

We can and should do as much as possible to ensure that voters have enough data to make informed decisions. But just as important is simply ensuring that they are welcomed and empowered to participate in the first place, so that sufficient trust exists for the moderators who are eventually elected to perform the tasks they were elected for.

As Jeff once wrote,

Democracy is a highly imperfect process. But it is a participatory imperfect process. Please participate [...] -- even if only as an observer -- and give us feedback on how we can improve the moderator election process to better serve your community.

  • I am not proposing to exclude anyone from voting, but merely advise them not to vote if they don't think they know enough about how a site works. And if you do, then this message is not meant for you. Please don't misunderstand my proposition. – user1306322 Sep 1 '16 at 16:57
  • Edit your question, @user1306322 - I'm hardly the first person to misunderstand it. In any case, I added a paragraph to address this "let's let everyone participate but not tell them" thing; it amounts to the same as excluding them entirely. – Shog9 Sep 1 '16 at 16:59
  • Could you please for the sake of completeness add some more information about what happened the last time we did that? – user1306322 Sep 1 '16 at 17:03
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    I've revised this answer to include considerably more detail on the history and underlying motivations here, @user1306322. I'm afraid it has become rather long in the process; quite honestly, this story could fill a book (but no one would read it). I hope I've managed to at least capture the spirit of this system in this summation. – Shog9 Sep 6 '16 at 18:25
  • Thanks for expanding on your answer, that's very nice of you. I suppose I'll have to accept it as my answer on this question, and for any future visitors. – user1306322 Sep 6 '16 at 18:40
7

Lack of activity does not mean I'm not interested in how the site is run. I have several accounts around the network where I have little to no activity, yet I visit and read the posts. Just because I haven't actively participated recently does not mean I should be excluded from voting.

There are many reasons I may not participate in a site any longer. One of those could be that I disagree with how the current moderators handled something in the past. Now, with a moderator election, I can provide my vote toward candidates that share similar opinions to me. Elections are for the community - both active and passive - and if some one has earned the privilege to vote based on past participation, that privilege should not be taken away.

Your proposal reads as attempting to do that. By placing a notice at the top of the election page and ending it with a variation of "please don't vote", you are actively discouraging people from voting. We should be doing the exact opposite. Get people involved in the process and help to further vet the candidates. The idea is to have a group of moderators that represent the community, not a group of moderators that won the election because we discouraged a lot of people from voting.

  • I am not proposing to exclude anyone from voting, but merely advise them not to vote if they don't think they know enough about how a site works. And if you do, then this message is not meant for you. Please don't misunderstand my proposition. – user1306322 Sep 1 '16 at 16:56
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    Regardless of what your proposed notice says, a notice at the top of the election page that ends with "please don't cast your vote" is attempting to exclude people. – Andy Sep 1 '16 at 16:58
  • Edited to avoid misunderstandings. Thanks. – user1306322 Sep 1 '16 at 17:00
5

As a user who cares about the network, is not currently active on one of the sites I can vote on, and understands the need for good moderators who can truly help keep their respective sites clean, I do not see a need for this proposal.

Unless there are numbers saying otherwise, I doubt there are many users network wide that have enough rep to see the notification, bother to click it, and just randomly click some buttons without reading anything. If the user truly cares that little about mod elections, they're likely to not even click the notification.

While it may not seem like it, a notice like that does have a chance to alienate users who aren't necessarily active on the site, but do care. They could get the notification, read that notice, and just leave rather than doing their homework to help pick the next set of moderators.

To me, that would be like saying, "Hey, if you don't own a car, please don't vote on our proposed bill that will affect people who drive cars." For one, just because you don't own a car doesn't mean you don't care about the rules for people who do. For another, just because you don't currently own a car doesn't mean you won't down the road.

Likewise, just because you're not active on a site now doesn't mean you won't be in the future. If I were to see that notification, it would feel like my opinion wasn't wanted, regardless of whether I planned to come back and contribute more in the future or not. (To be fair, I personally would ignore it so long as it was only a notice, but I would not feel good about such a comment being posted.)

And let's be honest: If you're trying to stop users from coming in, reading nothing, and voting without a care... A notice at the top of the page isn't going to stop them. If they aren't going to read anything else, why should they read the notice or obey it?

  • I don't think we can get any numbers because voting is anonymous. Unless people personally say they have done so, which I don't think we can count on. – user1306322 Sep 1 '16 at 17:09
  • The SE team can get numbers, anonymous numbers, about votes, and how active a user was before the election. What I'm not sure they have numbers on is how much, if any, research a user does before voting. Without those numbers, we don't even have proof this is a problem. Which is kind of my point in that paragraph- Without numbers saying otherwise, I really doubt this is a problem. I'm sure plenty of other users are going to/do feel the same about this particular issue: It's not a problem. – Kendra Sep 1 '16 at 17:10

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