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I downvoted a question and now really can't say why, so I wanted to remove my downvote. However, I get the message:

You last voted on this question yesterday

Your vote is now locked in unless this question is edited

Why is this? I don't think I voted on it multiple times, and even when I did, I can change my mind, can't I?

10
  • Perhaps stackoverflow does not allow immediate changing of downvotes because if someone intentionally downvotes an answer or comment, it can create a false impression. So just be careful next time. :) Feb 26, 2011 at 11:36
  • Related (but not identical) to this question
    – anon
    Feb 27, 2011 at 10:23
  • 3
    The marked duplicate is a bug report, not a support request and doesn't even answer the bottom line, why. Voting to reopen.
    – 3ventic
    Apr 20, 2014 at 21:03
  • 113
    This behavior is bulls***. I clicked upvote on some answer recommending specific library. I did so after trying a toy example. But after 5 minutes I found out it has severe limitations, so I went back and wanted to retract or downvote. I could not. Well, I'll go edit that answer in order to not support bad answers, but this SO feature is terrible.
    – monnef
    Feb 3, 2016 at 17:10
  • 5
    Here's an example of this crappy feature.
    – user376104
    Nov 26, 2017 at 17:54
  • I think it's 5 minutes for performance issues. Read-only databases are known for faster performance.
    – Binar Web
    Nov 26, 2020 at 13:51
  • Disadvantages of the 'feature': discourages voting - if you're not certain, don't vote is what this feature demands; locks in mistakes - if you learn something that changes your mind, too late; erodes trust (just a little) - from now on, I have to assume that at least some people who voted for/against something would have changed their minds, but not been able to change their votes. Advantages: tactical voting has to be done within 5 minutes. There has to be a better way (e.g. meta.stackexchange.com/questions/80762/…) Dec 7, 2021 at 10:32
  • Where is the canonical question for this? There must be justification for this feature somewhere. It was my impression the primary reason was tactical downvoting: Downvote all (competing) other answers to a question in order to (effectively-due to the default sort order) get the FGITW effect for your own answer. Later, after the FGITW race has been won, revert the downvotes in order to recover the lost reputation points. Apr 26 at 19:42
  • OK, I found it: Jeff Atwood's justification: "To help deal with the "tactical downvoting" problem, we have radically reduced the window for undoing votes." Apr 26 at 19:48
  • Allegedly, the reversal of the votes was also to hide the evidence, e.g. that a downvote ever took place. Apr 26 at 20:02

4 Answers 4

42

You have a short period of time to change your mind on a vote, five minutes. After that, you can only change your vote if the question or answer has been edited.

This helps to prevent irregularities in voting. If I could go back and take away every up vote I ever made, more than a few people would see a 1k + drop in reputation. If you thought the post was good, or not good for the duration of the grace period, the system assumes you knew what you were doing when voting either way.

The grace period allows for:

  • Accidentally clicking one when you meant the other
  • Realizing that you just misunderstood something that someone was trying to say
  • Seeing a better answer get posted that you think should rise to the top

Again, when you vote, you vote for a post exactly as it is when you voted. If it changes, you are able to change your vote accordingly if you wish.

This is in order to help curb the tactical down-vote problem.

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  • 23
    Maybe it's worth adding orange warning "Click again to undo in the next five minutes"? Feb 26, 2011 at 14:54
  • 3
    @Tim like the "Please add comment" message when downvoting - for users with rep lower than some threshold.. maybe not 2000 but something like 500 would be reasonable IMO. :-) Feb 27, 2011 at 8:00
  • 129
    I think 5 minutes is waaaay too short. Make it 24 hours at the least.
    – jcollum
    Apr 11, 2011 at 22:51
  • 77
    For example: I downvote & comment. The OP responds in a comnent, refuting my position. I feel chastened, and want to remove my downvote. Now the question & answer have a downvote that they do not deserve. Dec 12, 2011 at 11:29
  • 21
    How does this help curb tactical downvoting? (I.e. downvote a competing answer to make your own answer get more votes) For one thing, you can simply remove the vote within the grace period, then put it back. For another, you can just leave the vote: If you're that dishonest, why do you care? For the -1 rep? Hardly.
    – TLP
    Apr 17, 2012 at 14:16
  • 66
    Vote-locking doesn't solve any problem, and causes a lot of other problems. The rule should be repealed and we should be able to change our votes indefinitely.
    – endolith
    May 9, 2012 at 20:03
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    There was this question on stackoverflow, stackoverflow.com/questions/11510044/… Where I downvoted most of the answers, because I believed that they answered the question wrongly. The op marked one of those answers as right, and thus I was wrong for all the downvotes I cast, and I want to undo them. Jul 16, 2012 at 19:10
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    This really makes it hard to correct mistakes. If I discover that the up-voted answer was, if fact, incorrect, I cannot fix my upvote. This is particularly troubling if I make the discovery within an hour.
    – Erik
    Jul 29, 2012 at 20:13
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    I just got a damn lock-in after three hours! How much is the waiting period anyways?
    – sdaau
    Sep 4, 2013 at 15:49
  • 60
    Please reconsider this policy and let people change their votes when they change their minds. Locking them does more harm than good. It's very common to come back to something days or years later and realize it was misinterpreted, but incorrect votes are stuck there, misleading other readers forever.
    – endolith
    Oct 30, 2013 at 19:37
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    On a side note (and an ironic one) I just accidentally double the "useful comment" button for @jcollum. Now it says "You've already undone your vote on this comment; you cannot upvote it again". Really? I'm on a train and my finger slipped due to a jolt. Mar 12, 2015 at 19:46
  • 22
    Well, I had voted an answer because it made sense and looked good, but when I came to actually implement it, it was plain wrong. Now I upvoted a wrong answer and can't take it back.
    – jonallard
    Jul 23, 2015 at 20:14
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    What about the 'guilt' you up voted a bad answer because it looked perfect but only when you set out do try it, it didn't work? Now I have up voted a bad answer for ever and others will stumbled upon it as well because it is rated +1
    – zadane
    Jun 20, 2016 at 15:30
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    "Welcome back! If you found this question useful, don't forget to vote both the question and the answers up." Yeah, and you'll regret it forever.
    – geneorama
    Aug 25, 2016 at 19:07
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    This grace period is not sufficient. Sometimes I realize only later, after trying a solution in various scenarios, that my intial vote was correct. But now, it is cast in stone forever, unable to be changed even with later evidence. People find evidence all the time that disproves previous longstanding theories. This vote locking is garbage.
    – Tommy
    Oct 4, 2018 at 16:16
14

One of the side effects of locking in someone's vote (after an initial five minute period you have to undo a mistake) is that it forces folks to be much more deliberate and thoughtful about what they vote for.

The purpose of voting is to help a community vet that information to help assure it is useful and correct. If you "vote first, read later", it has an unfortunate side effect of attracting more votes like it, whether they are ultimately warranted or not.

It sounds a bit odd, but there is an an unfortunate but very real social bias that people tend to join in and believe something to be correct simply because the group says so. That type of confirmation bias has been used to game the system where folks go around indiscriminately up-voting each other's post simply to give them that initial momentum to gain more up-votes early on — then they simply come back later to remove their vote so the suspicious activity goes undetected. The same can be said for tactical down-voting to push competing answers down the list so they can gain an early advantage. By "locking votes in", people are more accountable for what they vote for, and those who would otherwise engage in suspicious voting are more thoroughly routed by the system.

That's why votes are locked in after five minutes. You are ultimately responsible for what you vote for; so unless the information contained in the post is edited and changed, you should know what you are voting for before you click that button.

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  • 16
    Wouldn't the goal of ensuring that people are serious about their voting be far better served by deliberately adding UI friction to casting up- or down-votes, rather than to reconsidering hasty votes? Oct 29, 2015 at 4:16
  • 16
    Yeah, I wish I was always right the first time when I do something. The reality is, I often enough realise my initial thought was wrong, or incomplete in its understanding, on further consideration. Part of being human is being able to change our minds, correct our mistakes. Mar 2, 2017 at 23:11
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    This can actually accomplish the opposite as well though. I recently had a post where I was not the OP, but came along with what seemed like evidence that agreed with the top answer (which I upvoted) and disagreed with two lower answers (which I downvoted because it disagreed with my understanding at the time. I later was able to determine a more complete picture of what was happening and it turns out the underrated answers were correct and the highest voted one was incorrect, but despite having found (from external info) that SO is conveying incorrect information, I can't fix it. Jul 6, 2017 at 20:13
  • 2
    Something that I don't think has been brought up in this thread is the fact that vote locking can stop people from applying relative voting (as in this question). For example, I can upvote some initial answers that address the question well, but later on there is an answer that synthesizes the other answers in a much more clear and complete fashion. I would like to be able to only vote for this late best answer, rescinding my old upvotes, because the new answer is relatively superior to the others. Aug 21, 2018 at 9:01
  • 3
    Just as the asker has the ability to change their mind about which answer is the best by changing the accepted answer, so should the other users voting for useful answers be able to distribute their votes to highlight the answers they believe to be the most useful in a changed environment. You can be very thoughtful about picking which answer to vote for initially, but that doesn't mean that a better answer won't come along in a day, a month or a year's time. Aug 21, 2018 at 9:09
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    No, it doesn't. What it does is make my still probably-not-super-throrough initial vote that is wrong live forever. This is MUCH worse than allowing me to correct my initial vote after thorough investigation.
    – Tommy
    Oct 4, 2018 at 16:15
  • This will only have the exact opposite effect. Votes that later turn out to be inaccurate can't be fixed.
    – kilkfoe
    Jun 14, 2021 at 16:43
  • "is that it forces folks to be much more deliberate and thoughtful about what they vote for." Yeah, no. I just downvoted your answer. How about that? Mar 3 at 20:12
  • The only thing this policy has done is make me want to stop voting at all. I've come across several answers that I've incorrectly voted on, and I can't correct them, so the only safe course of action going forward is to stop voting at all.
    – Alex
    Aug 28 at 6:25
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The 5-minute limit is too short. I saw an answer that looked exactly like what I wanted. When I used the code I found issues with it and then felt like it shouldn't receive my upvote, but now I can't remove my upvote.

I guess I'll have to test the code out before upvoting from now on, if I even remember to come back to Stack Overflow after I've implemented that code.

3
  • You could leave a comment for others to see (with all the information you have). Aug 22, 2019 at 19:40
  • 6
    Yeah. I believe that it is not reasonable to try to remember all the answers which helped you, to upvote them in a few days after leveraging the info provided in them. It seems that from now on I concluded for myself that I will try to avoid any upvotes or downvotes as much as possible. Mar 19, 2020 at 14:26
  • 3
    Depending on the answer, you may not notice for months that you shouldn't have up-voted it. It may work great in development and testing but end up causing a memory leak in production and your up-vote is locked in misleading others and possibly yourself in the future.
    – kilkfoe
    Jun 14, 2021 at 16:45
0

Basically, the site wants you to "know your mind" when you vote, and not change your votes on a whim. There is a 5 minute window for change in case you accidentally clicked the wrong arrow, misread the question etc. I won't go into issues of "tactical downvoting" or otherwise "gaming the system."

One reason for encouraging downvotes is to encourage downvoters to leave comments, or otherwise persuade the OP to improve the post. If the post is changed (and presumably improved), then the site is happy to accommodate changing downvotes.

4
  • 35
    The problem is I sometimes want to change my vote not on a whim, but based on more careful consideration of my action (e.g., initially I liked the post, but then when I go and actually try to implement the ideas, I realize they didn't know what they were talking about, and there was no way I could have really known this until I spent a couple of hours working on the problem: by then it is too late). I would gladly put a reason for changing my vote. :)
    – neuronet
    Feb 20, 2015 at 14:13
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    @neuronet that sounds like a great idea: after the 5-mintue window, users should be allowed to change their vote only if they can explain why. This would be effective against tactical downvoting because the downvoter would not have a valid reason. Aug 17, 2015 at 20:55
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    The assumption behind this 'feature' appears to be that nobody ever learns anything. Dec 7, 2021 at 10:25
  • 1
    You're contradicting yourself. If SO didn't want us to change our votes on a whim it wouldn't have a 5 minute period where you can change your mind. That's literally what "on a whim" means - The site forces you to make quick decisions. Mar 3 at 20:18

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