I am cross-posting this (with some edits) here to get a wider audience on this matter as it can be an issue for other communities. In that sense, consider this incident as an example and try to address election moderation issues in general.
I came across this thread: Why was this comment chain removed from the moderator questionnaire? (now deleted by a moderator), about a chain of comments removed by a moderator under the SO Community Moderator Election - Questionnaire post.
After some discussion, the decision was reversed and comments were restored. But then the post itself was deleted by a CM. I am not against removing that post since it no longer serves any purpose as the nominee decided to leave the network and their privacy matters.
But removing the other thread which was disputing moderation decisions concerns me (same mod who deleted the comments originally, deleted this post).
Why should the trace of moderation actions and disputes be removed?
After all, that post talks about some moderation actions during an election and could've been used as a future reference if something similar happens. So in general, should there be a guideline for preserving disputes specially when they carry some valuable information (e.g. Cody's answer here could be used as a reference).
I mainly agree with Cody Gray's points about what should be done when moderating election-related content (on the deleted thread). I am quoting parts of their answer here;
Please note that since they were answering a question about the specific incident there are references to that; however, I tried to generalize the points into the scope of this question.
I deferred answering this Meta question or doing anything about it until after I could discuss it privately with the moderator who made the original decision. After doing so, it seems we are not going to see eye-to-eye on this issue. I am not going to overrule that moderator's decision (if only for practical reasons, because it simply doesn't make sense to have a moderator deletion-undeletion war), but I cannot in good conscience just stay quiet about this.
It indicates that there are (were) different opinions among moderators about some actions. Of course there is nothing wrong with that in general. Usually, those differences should be discussed within mod rooms and a decision can be reached. But election-related content has a higher stake, so, there should be a higher standard as well. I think community's opinion should be considered in moderating election-related content. It doesn't mean that everything should be shared with the community but some more transparency is needed.
For instance, moderator who has deleted the comments has not posted a comment saying that they were removed and explaining why (if one has reasons to end an ongoing discussion, should instruct users to do so with reasons). If it wasn't an election, I wouldn't have said this, but here it can arise to be considered censorship or bias.
deleting comments critical of a candidate during an election is extremely dangerous and should be avoided at nearly all costs because of the danger of appearance of bias towards/against a particular candidate.
It is really important to keep the information available to electorates. I understand that on the main sites and even on the meta (when the election is not discussed) we try to steer clear of personal issues and criticizing one's actions, if not directly related to the matter. But obviously, an election is different.
I surely believe that CoC should be applied always and any insult, bigotry, or false information should not be tolerated. But there is a fine line between criticism and insult. We need to make sure that a nominee is worthy of our vote and will act in the community's best interest. We need to make sure they have the qualities expected as listed on the election page (among which is being "patient and fair") and that's mainly possible through discussion and constructive criticism.
The community needs to be able to ask questions, many of them difficult, about their candidates. This is key to a legitimate democratic election, and it is absolutely necessary on Stack Overflow, where an extremely high level of trust is placed by the community in their moderators. Moderator candidates need to be able to withstand being asked and be willing to answer difficult questions to the community's satisfaction. That entire process is subverted if such comments are deleted. Asking questions is not "harassment"—it's the process.
A democratic process needs transparency and I don't think our community election is different. The main structure of the process is very clear and I, personally, don't see any major issues. But deleting some information in the midst of an election is worrying. So, I suppose we should put up a guideline to avoid such incidents which would make moderation a tad more straightforward.
I want to ask the community, moderators, and CMs to clarify and explain their points of view on Election Content Moderation so we can reach a standard that the majority of us agrees with.
My main concern here is about transparency. Again, Cody phrased it perfectly:
There does have to be a higher standard for moderators when moderating election-related content, in order to preserve trust on such a sensitive issue where there is almost no transparency. Stuff that would normally be inappropriate in a comment (like questioning a person's behavior) has to become permissible during an election, because that's the whole point of an election.
One should not get fixated on the incident as it has already been dealt with and there is not much left to do. The discussion should mainly focus on establishing standards or pointing out potential similar challenges, using the incident solely as an example. Please note that I am only trying to clarify my intent, and am not demanding anything.