I am sort of new to this site but some might know me from a place close by. I find this discussion very interesting on abstarct grounds. It never is quite clear to me why there is such a, in my opinion, huge difference between upvotes and downvotes in peoples perception. Don't get me wrong, I do not downvote a lot myself, neither do I like to get downvotes either, but why such a strong reaction against downvotes.
The user whose text has spawned this debate in my opinion votes both ways, as many do, for up, namely to a considerable part also on the relative merits of an answer (against other answers).
Now, some, in particular Pete L. Clark seem to put forward an idea of some 'absolute' correctness based voting, which he seems to apply (upvote everything correct).
First, this raises the issue that what is prominently propagated as one of the sites principles that the 'best' answers raise to the top would not work well or at all anymore; two answers that are both correct while one is better would more or less inevitably get the same score (except one is given earlier perhaps, but then more often then not a better answer might come latter as mentioned by others so that it would even be worse and the better answer would always stay behind).
Second, as he also acknowledges, this is not viable for people that view a lot of question. And, third, it is certainly not what happens in practise that much I think, otherwise some very simple answers would have to have a lot higher scores. In addition, if this principle was really followed the simpler an answer the higher the score (as more people can judged its correctness), assuming comparable number of views, which is sort-of reasonable.
So, how do (many) people actually vote (I think), or at least how do I vote (up).
At least I typically vote on perceived merits or usefulness if you like. If I think an answer is good I vote it up, if it is just correct but sort of standard, I might still vote it up if its score is low, and if not then I just leave it. But here is the first point where my voting is not absolute in any way; whether or not several other people already upvoted the answer does not really change its usefulnes. Still I feel that there is something like a reasonable score for some type of answer (with all the vagueness attached to this). Observation of voting patterns confirms that this is not isolated (though there are some other effects to consider, namely that people follow others in voting; like, this looks good but I am not sure it is correct, but well 7 others thought so alread so it should be fine +1).
Now, there is a second point where my (up) voting is not absolute. Namely, if there are several answers I might only upvote the one (or the two or more) I consider as best and not all, in particular if the relative score distribution is not as I think it should be. And, even if I tried not to do this, it might even be hard to avoid. For if I see a question and I see one answer that only gives a partial answer then I might objectively find this more or less impressinve depending on whether there is another answer next to it that gives a full answer (in particular in a case where I had not known an answer myself).
So, again, my up voting depends on the other existing answers.
Now, in OP it is claimed the order should be only a consequence of and not a cause for the votes (mentioning both up and down). At least implicitly postulating some voting based on the merits of the answer looked at in isolation. I doubt many people really vote (up) like this. Judging each answer on its own merits not taking other existing answers (so the relative quality) into account at all not even indirectly. Yet as soon as one does this, one already votes for the purpose of sorting. Again, I think for up-votes this type of voting is at least not uncommon.
Now what does this user do that is so questionable, in some people's opinion, they use up and down votes in more or less the same way, and not with quite different meanings as is the standard way it is used up vote everythng you like there are no very clear rules and hardly any questions asked (except for voting fraud) but downvote only for serious problems, like incorrect.
I know it is like this, but it is not quite clear why it must be like this (in the sense that somebody wishing to deviate from it faces quite severe opposition, including more or less threats to be suspended).
Sure, one looses points via downvootes, but also one does not get any by non-upvotes or gets unjustified ones by unjustified upvotes; and the stakes are higher for up-votes (2 against 10 as we are talking answers).
Therefore, my opinion is, if one does not also impose strict guidelines and norms when to upvote, I do not see why this must be so different for downvotes.
Again, sure the one is something positive and nice and the other not and so it is not quite the same, and perhaps it is soemhow good it is like this that downvotes are rare. All I am saying is that the reasons for it are quite vague and rather in the realm of emotions. Therefore, in my opinion, quite a bit of tolerance should be excercised towards those that for one reason or another deviate from the standard, since this standard is sort of arbitrary.
Analogies are always difficult, but if somebody downvotes a lot (but not in spiteful or ad hominem ways) the worst (I do not say one should do even this) I think one may think is this is a bit of a grumpy or unfriendly colleague; not unaccaptable let us fire(ban) them already (if they do not change their ways instantly), in particular not if in other ways this colleague is competent and supportive.