I have been reflecting on some ideas around our current election system which were (originally) prompted by our pro tem appointment process. First, I think the Community Team needs to get out of the moderator-selection business. Currently, 45% of our moderators were appointed by someone from the Stack Exchange staff, and more than half (58%) our sites have yet to hold a proper election.
We need to give agency back to the communities regarding how you pick and maintain your elected leadership from the beginning and as the community continues to grow.
Is there an interest in broader election reform?
The purpose of this post is to gauge the general interest in taking a fresh look at our current electoral ideology and how you pick and maintain your moderation leadership. This isn't about working out specific implementation details or resolving every obstacle. I want to see if there is a general appetite for looking at broader reforms around how we elect and maintain moderators.
The first question to ask is: “Is this even a thing? Should I be looking at this?" Or am I stepping on customs so ingrained and sacrosanct, I should just leave it alone.
Jon Ericson has been experimenting with pro tem elections to replace moderators who have moved on. As we were looking at improvements to that process, I kept asking if we should roll that [cool idea] back into the regular election cycle?
Starting with a clean slate, I started considering how broader electoral changes might improve some of the issues around our representative ecosystem. I think we might be edging into something more capable and adaptive — so I want to see if I should continue working on this.
Here are a few issues I’ll put on the table for consideration; I'm sure there are others. This is an open discussion and trial balloon to see whether there is any interest in looking at broader electoral changes. Please feel free to add your thoughts in the answers below.
- Appointing pro tems is icky
There's no reason we (the community team) need to continue picking your moderators. We've already started experimenting with pro tem elections, so I'd like to improve on that process so ALL moderators are elected by the community — including pro tems — starting shortly after the private beta.
- Have one unified pro-tem/moderator process
Jon's pro tem experiments show that pro tem elections can work, so I would like to see if we can merge both processes into one, unified election ecosystem. As the distinction between pro tem and "real moderator" starts to fade— read on.
- Moderator replacements take too long
The CoGro Team (particularly Jnat and others) has been grinding away at a long-neglected backlog of sites needing moderator replacements (resignations, absentees, vetting candidates). Those delays will not likely end with the current backlog. The community team continues to be conspicuously short on resources to help communities with other issues. I believe this next bullet item can essentially free up those resources almost entirely.
- Simpler Elections, More Often
Let's start with an assumption that I can simplify the election process to make it much less exhausting. The basic idea is to have much simpler, lightweight elections… more often… at regular intervals… maybe even yearly. The idea is to make elections much less epic and generational by creating more opportunity for the community to decide who they elect and retain. One way to help assure your best talent rises to the top is to provide more opportunity for avid users to apply.
- The community should run their own town hall
This one seems like a no-brainer. Leveraging our current Q&A framework, we can model a town hall where communities are empowered to host their own event if they so choose, or skip it if they don't (with CM assistance where needed, of course).
- Should "Moderator For Life" always be automatic… and FOREVER?
Our Moderator team is the best there is, bar none. Having senior moderators is important to retain valuable talent. But should communities have a say when that happens? And should they be empowered to decide if something has changed? We don't want to have a lot of needless rollover elections, so maybe we could come up with a system where long-term "senior moderators" are easily retained, while more established communities can avoid needless elections when it turns out: "Nah, we're good. We don't need another election."
- No change to the “single transferable vote”
I love our STV voting system; I think the single transferable vote is inspired. I’m not sure if there’s room for improvement, so I mention it here but I would largely keep the fundamental mechanism intact.