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This is a follow up to How can we best judge who has the skills to be a moderator? . Two moderators have recently resigned, and they say there will be another election soon. Some recent elections had problems that candidates "self-nominated" extremely close to the deadline, with one particular example which led to the thread linked above. The community needs to find a way to weigh concerns with candidates before the election process.

Is there an technical means to require candidates to self-nominate earlier, or to put a pause between the nomination phase and the voting phase? I have heard rumors of a "primary" system in the SE software, but I am not sure how to make it happen.

Answers from SE developers about exactly what influence the community has on the election process, and about the "primary" option, would be particularly welcome.

Edit: at the request of Shog9, I have also tagged this as feature-request.

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    $\begingroup$ I believe that there is a reasonable chance that we will have more than the minimal ten, but perhaps we can arrange 10 users who will be willing to "buff up the numbers". $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Apr 30 '13 at 13:26
  • $\begingroup$ I do think that getting 10 should be possible. The deeper question is how to organize a discussion of the candidates, particularly because the primary is done with a system like a regular question - but with comments disabled. Therefore a separate system would be needed to allow for comments to be posted. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Apr 30 '13 at 13:48
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    $\begingroup$ Carl, I am certain that 10 people won't be needed. The last election we had exactly 10 people on the first candidacy, and I doubt we will end up with less than eight. This means that you really just need two people. Unless you are planning to run yourself for moderator, me and you make two people and I am sure we can find a third. Besides I always wanted to try to some real life aspects of forcing, for example forcing primaries! :-) $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Apr 30 '13 at 13:55
  • $\begingroup$ @CarlMummert SE organizes a town hall chat with the candidates where the community can ask all the candidates. The results are collected and posted in a meta question. $\endgroup$ – Mad Scientist Apr 30 '13 at 14:00
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    $\begingroup$ @MadScientist, but this is not enough... as the last elections show. Many people felt that if there was a forced primaries then the extra week would have given the voters so more time to roam around the meta and whatnot. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Apr 30 '13 at 14:08
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    $\begingroup$ @Mad Scientist: the concern is more with candidates who don't answer questions; the delay of the primary gives others adequate time to make statements, politick, etc. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Apr 30 '13 at 14:10
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    $\begingroup$ @AsafKaragila A site of this size should have enough candidates for a primary, I expect this election to have one. And while I think the timing between town hall chats and the end of the election could be better (but very hard to do because scheduling is always difficult), I'm not sure how many users actually research the candidates and look beyond the nomination page. $\endgroup$ – Mad Scientist Apr 30 '13 at 14:11
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    $\begingroup$ @MadScientist: After Bill was out of the moderator team and left the site more than one person said that they wished they had more time to know about the candidates, and that they would have considered not voting for Bill if they knew his history a little bit better. Indeed not everyone look past the nomination page, but the extra week is something. It can also force the candidates to answer more questions properly (again, see the way Bill responded to my questions "I don't have time to answer that right now" sort of comment), and that is a big deal. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Apr 30 '13 at 14:14
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    $\begingroup$ Related: I suggest that the future candidates be required to address precisely the "homework/no effort/close" hot issue. What they think about it, and what they plan to do about it, if anything. I suspect most of them will, anyway. $\endgroup$ – Julien Apr 30 '13 at 19:14
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First off, let's have a bit of background:

  • The total election will be 15 days long.
  • The nomination phase will be 7 days long.
  • The primary voting phase - if it happens - will be 4 days long.
  • The final voting phase will be 4 days long if there is a primary, otherwise 8 days long.

We can and will remove any candidates who nominate "in bad faith" - effectively this means anyone whose nomination clearly indicates they've no desire to actually participate in moderating the site won't be allowed to run. So, no gaming the system to force a primary voting phase.

We'll also provide a dedicated chat room to discuss the candidates (linked to from the election page) as well as a thread here on Meta to pose questions to the candidates and another where they'll be expected to provide answers (we're transitioning to this system over the old chat-based "town hall" format for expediency and to improve visibility). Both of these will be available throughout the voting period, and should go a long way toward addressing concerns over the ability of voters to get their concerns about candidates addressed.

That said, if you really, really want it, we can force a primary phase - just bear in mind that in order for this to happen someone is going to be eliminated before the final election. There'll be four moderators elected this time around - if only 4 people make it into the final phase of the election (or 5 into the primary), we'll cancel the election (because at that point you could win just by running).

Please tag all meta discussions regarding changes to the election process with + .

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    $\begingroup$ "We can and will remove any candidates who nominate "in bad faith" - effectively this means anyone whose nomination doesn't clearly reflect an honest desire to moderate the site won't be allowed to run." Isn't it the job of the voters in an election to evaluate the sincerity of the candidates? Does this avowed policy make anyone else uncomfortable, or is it just me? $\endgroup$ – Pete L. Clark May 2 '13 at 15:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Pete: wasting voters' time with joke nominations doesn't exactly encourage voters to focus on the important task of examining the trackrecords of serious candidates. $\endgroup$ – Shog9 May 2 '13 at 16:04
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    $\begingroup$ We have never had a problem of too many nominees for an election nor, in my opinion, any obviously frivolous nominees. So in response to an issue which is at best hypothetical, you have said that you "can and will" interfere in an election in the most severe way, namely by throwing out candidates using the criterion "doesn't clearly reflect an honest desire to moderate the site". You do live in a democratic republic, right? How would you feel if your state government assured you that it could and would dismiss candidates who did not evince "honest desire" to serve? $\endgroup$ – Pete L. Clark May 2 '13 at 16:24
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    $\begingroup$ @PeteL.Clark In my observation SE has been very careful when using their ability to retract nominations, I've only seen it used for clear joke nominations. I understood it in this case that anyone stating "I'm nominating to force a primary, but don't vote for me as I don't really want to be a mod" will have their nomination removed. And the removal of nominations is something the community notices in my experience, and any abuse by SE would certainly generate a very public discussion. $\endgroup$ – Mad Scientist May 2 '13 at 16:30
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    $\begingroup$ @Mad Scientist: your comment sounds very reasonable. I hope you can see though that this is not at all what "Shog9" said. If "Sh0g9"'s position is not truly representative of the SE team, I would very much like to hear it. To be more precise, eliminating any candidate who says that they are not interested in being a moderator is completely unobjectionable. But Shog9's comment says that he will impose a much stronger standard than this, by throwing out candidates whose motivations are not clear to him. That's a problem for me. $\endgroup$ – Pete L. Clark May 2 '13 at 16:32
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    $\begingroup$ I think that there is significant support for a primary phase. What is really desired is a substantial delay between nominations and voting to allow for candidates to be vetted, but the primary seems to be the only way to do this at present. If there is a way to ensure a primary regardless of the number of nominees, or some other way to give us time to discuss the nominees, I would support it. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert May 2 '13 at 16:41
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    $\begingroup$ @PeteL.Clark I've discussed this issue with Shog in the past (I'm a moderator on two other sites), and I think the way he has written the SE position here can easily be misread. His position is representative of SE, but the way you're reading this post is not his actual position. SE is not really evaluating the candidates "honest desire to moderate", but only removes the most blatant joke nominations. $\endgroup$ – Mad Scientist May 2 '13 at 16:42
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    $\begingroup$ @PeteL.Clark Don't forget that this answer was prompted by several suggestions in the comments on the question and Mad Scientist's answer that folks should put up fake nominations in this election just to beef up the numbers. $\endgroup$ – Adam Lear May 2 '13 at 17:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Anna Lear: nobody suggested putting up "fake" nominations - rather they suggested putting up actual nominations for the purpose of ensuring a primary. I have been ignoring that part of Shog's statement, which I found to be at best tone deaf and out of agreement with the SE theory of moderator elections laid out at blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/12/… - "We gladly reciprocate by trusting you to lead and govern your own community." I would suggest to everyone that we should move past Shog's unfortunate phrasing and focus on more productive issues. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert May 2 '13 at 17:18
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    $\begingroup$ @Shog9: the issue with your wording is that you assume that forcing a primary phase is "gaming the system"; if the consensus of the Math.SE community is that we want a primary, then it is not gaming the system to ensure that a primary happens, it is simply making the best of a system that we have to use. However, if it is already possible to ensure a primary regardless of the number of nominations (which is likely to be close to 10 anyway), and you could assure us that a primary will indeed happen "no matter what" then the entire issue can be behind us. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert May 2 '13 at 17:29
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    $\begingroup$ @Carl: if you want to force a primary, then suggest that (post a feature-request) - if folks support it, we can make it happen. That's the honest way to go about this. Nominations from folks who don't want to moderate but run anyway are misleading (or at best distracting) to voters who don't know the reasoning behind them - and frankly, I don't think y'all need to risk electing another moderator who doesn't want to moderate. $\endgroup$ – Shog9 May 2 '13 at 17:45
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    $\begingroup$ I appreciate the rewording of the answer, and I no longer object to it. $\endgroup$ – Pete L. Clark May 2 '13 at 19:18
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    $\begingroup$ @Anna Lear: It is up to the math.SE community to decide how we want to use the primary; remember that SE says "We don’t run Stack Overflow. You do. ... We gladly reciprocate by trusting you to lead and govern your own community." What happened in the last election did happen, and the community is looking for a way to avoid it recurring. The point of the question was to determine how to accomplish what the community wants to do. If SE prefers to implement another way, to help us out, that would be wonderful. If a primary is the only way, it seems likely we'll have one. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert May 3 '13 at 1:23
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    $\begingroup$ Or you might not choose at all, @Asaf. There's always a trade-off in these things - and the hard truth is that many eligible voters already don't vote once. This is why I have to insist on a specific feature-request here so everyone who cares knows what's going on - while a forced primary might help, it's not free. $\endgroup$ – Shog9 May 3 '13 at 15:45
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    $\begingroup$ @CarlMummert I'm not trying to create busywork here, but please open a new question that's going to serve as a feature request for the primary instead of just retagging this one. The discussion in this thread has gone in several directions and the votes on this question in no way reflect voting on the specific request to force a primary. Linking back to this question would likely help establish context, but a very specific (and new) request would better allow folks who might disagree to speak up. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – Adam Lear May 5 '13 at 21:26
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The primary phase will automatically happen if more than 10 users nominate themselves. Comments on nominations are not visible in the primary phase itself, so this does not really help all that much if a user intents to avoid them.

The best way to address concerns about some candidates is the election town hall chat (or the offline version that SE is testing, I don't know which one will be used here). There you can ask the candidates questions, though candidates might not attend it and might also avoid answering the questions later. But then the voters can draw their conclusions from the silence of the candidate.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks. I found meta.stackexchange.com/questions/135360/… which does say no comments are allowed on the primary phase voting page - so presumably we have to start another meta post for comments? If that page is accurate, candidates may withdraw as soon as the primary begins, which means that any 10 members can force a primary by self-nominating and then withdrawing. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Apr 30 '13 at 12:03
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    $\begingroup$ We will be using the non-live version for testing here, so, it will be a Q&A that we collect questions for a few days and then a second thread will provide a questionnaire for candidates to answer. Let it be said that not only is the questionnaire optional, but this should not stop the community from organizing their own community chat session for a Q&A with the candidates. $\endgroup$ – Grace Note May 2 '13 at 14:57
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    $\begingroup$ @GraceNote How does the timing work with the new system? There is no need to find a time for all candidates to appear in chat anymore, and as it is asynchronous the questions could be collected pretty early. I always found it odd that the town hall happened while we were already voting (in the primary or the main election). $\endgroup$ – Mad Scientist May 2 '13 at 15:09
  • $\begingroup$ @MadScientist I start collecting Q&A at the end of the nomination phase, so that all candidates are already present. The question collection lasts for 2 days (we might cut it shorter, maybe, in testing, and I guess it's possible to start in advance of the end of the nomination phase), and then the questionnaire is posted for candidates to respond. It coincides with voting time mostly under the expectation that voters take advantage of having a whole week to vote, instead of just voting the moment the poll doors open. $\endgroup$ – Grace Note May 2 '13 at 15:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Grace Note: is there a link from the voting page to the meta thread which collects questions and answers from candidates? That would seem like a helpful way to encourage voters to investigate the candidates. The previous system led voters directly to the voting page, and I had the impression it did not encourage informed voting. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert May 2 '13 at 17:22
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    $\begingroup$ @Carl We can add a link to the elections page and have been doing so for the recent elections. Our current approach is to include it, alongside a few other links to statistics and the chatroom, just before the actual list of candidates. This is probably not the most ideal situation (and one consistent request I get is to link each individual's answers from their personal nomination), but at the moment we don't have anything more prominent setup. $\endgroup$ – Grace Note May 2 '13 at 17:29
  • $\begingroup$ That sounds reasonable. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert May 2 '13 at 17:31

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